photography, Recap

Where Did 2017 Go?

This past year seemed simultaneously both long and short. As it’s become my tradition to recap the adventures of the past year through photos and provide encouragement for the coming year, let’s get started on the good, the bad, and the ugly of 2017!

year 2017

January

January 2017 snow

The year started off with snow, a rare occurrence in these parts! I began the year with a hike up Roxy Ann Peak, and continued enjoying the snow by volunteering in the mountains at Wilderness Trails. I also had the opportunity to interview Sadie Robertson for this year’s spring issue of Girlz 4 Christ Magazine, which was the start of more growth with this project.

February

February 2017 Trees of Mystery

The highlight of February was taking a day trip to Trees of Mystery in Klamath, California. I had given my family tickets as a Christmas present, and it was a fun trip together. Since the New Year is during February in China, I went to the Chinese New Year festival in Jacksonville, Oregon. I also drove my friends out to Gold Beach where we hunted for glass floats, but unfortunately we didn’t find any.

March

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This month focused more on local outdoor adventures. Since I was doing the On Foot series on this blog, my goal was to discover trails and walking paths. I even discovered new tiny towns like Wimer, Oregon and its covered bridge. I took several day trips to Ashland, Rogue River, and Jacksonville, and I hiked Table Rock.

April

April 2017 Susie Shellenberger

April’s adventures started out a lot like May’s. I joined in Ashland’s First Friday Art Walk, which I hadn’t done since college. I also hiked in Jacksonville and went on a few country drives. But then I found out that one of my favorite speakers and writers, Susie Shellenberger, was going to be speaking in Brookings, which is a town on the Southern Oregon Coast. Although I had short notice, I planned a wonderful weekend road trip around her speaking schedule where I got to see beautiful portions of the Pacific Coastline. I even stayed in my first AirBnB… on a boat!

May

May 2017 Redding

This was the hardest month for me. Although I tried to jazz up the year by taking trips and going on adventures, for the most part they were there to cover up some struggles. I applied to several jobs this year, all of which resulted in rejection. My current jobs have gone through some rough patches. I knew a few people who died in car crashes. But it really hit home when I got hit myself. Just three days after my birthday, I was driving some girls home from a Mothers Day event on a Friday night when another car ran a red light and hit us in the intersection. For the most part, we were fine. However, I did have to spend the rest of the year going to chiropractic appointments, and dealing with the insurance companies is still a hassle. But since I got a rental car, I decided to take a road trip the very next weekend, kind of as a way to kick fear in the face. Because I made plans the same day I left, I considered several destinations until I found one that was both affordable and available. I had a nice time exploring several attractions in Redding, California.

June

June 2017 Golden Ghost Town

I drove three different cars this month: a rental from my insurance company, a rental from the other insurance company, and finally, a new car for me! Since June was continued stress of dealing with the aftermath of the car crash, I wasn’t in the mood to travel much. I did take a day trip to the ghost town of Golden, Oregon and nearby Grants Pass. After bidding good-bye to my totaled car, I picked out one that was almost exactly like it, except a year newer. I didn’t get it until the end of the month, but managed a trip to the movie theater the night I bought it to see Cars 3.

July

July 2017: Thor's Well

It was time to really break in my new car. I started off the month with a weekend road trip. I spent the first day and night in Eugene, walking along the river and staying at the hostel. Then I headed out to the Central Oregon Coast. Since that area has been largely unexplored by me, I got to enjoy attractions like Thor’s Well and the Sea Lion Caves for the first time, not to mention beaches and lighthouses. I then re-explored the coastal towns I had driven through in April. The rest of the month was spent relaxing at home, doing things like hammocking, biking, and even fixing up my old tent so I could go backyard camping.

August

August 2017: Lion Sleepover at Wildlife Safari

I’m glad my tent was repaired the previous month, because it allowed me to have one of the most exciting adventures of the year! Although it took place only an hour and a half from home, Wildlife Safari had a sleepover event where guests could camp out next to the lions! We also had encounters with several of the other resident animals, like the bears and cheetahs. The way back home took much longer than an hour and a half, since I stopped to see the Myrtle Creek covered bridges and take my time going through the Applegate Trail Museum. The next weekend, I was out again! I spent the first night once again in Redding, California, where I went to WaterWorks and Bethel. The next day I met my friend Kylie (who I had only ever seen via the internet before), and we explored little Placerville together. I spent the final day of that trip in Tahoe, but this tri-state trip wasn’t the last one of the month! The next weekend, I went on two separate day trips: one I went to Lava Beds National Monument with the kids I babysat, and the other allowed me to explore Bend with a friend.

September

September 2017: Anita Renfroe

After all of August’s adventures, I was spent, both physically and financially. Although wanderlust was still knocking at my door, I planned to explore the local area instead by going on hikes, using my hammock, geocaching, and attending a free retreat. My “No-Spend September Staycation” did allow me one out-of-town trip, though, when I won a ticket to see Anita Renfroe’s comedy show in Klamath Falls.

October

October 2017: Table Rock

October continued the slower pace that September set. I took kids to the pumpkin patch a couple of times. I spent a long day hiking up and around Table Rock. And though I had taken a summer break from Wilderness Trails due to my injured back as well as scheduling conflicts, I jumped back in full-force this month. First there was the organization’s 50th anniversary celebration dinner, followed by two weekend camps.

November

November 2017: Crater Lake Snowshoeing

Although I didn’t do anything to celebrate Halloween, I seemed to make up for it early in November. After joining Ashland’s First Friday Art Walk (where many of the refreshments included leftover candy), I joined Southern Oregon University’s ghost tour. Then came two more Wilderness Trails weekends, the second one introducing snow! The snow fun continued on Thanksgiving. My family decided to burn off some calories before consuming even more of them by snowshoeing at Crater Lake National Park.

December

December 2017: Christmas Eve Church Tour

Since I’ve lived with my immediate family the past few years, I no longer travel much in December, partly because this month’s travel expenses are so high, and partly because there’s so much to do locally for Christmas and other celebrations. Still, there were yet another two Wilderness Trails retreats. The first one was a tree-cutting camp, so I got to cut down a Christmas tree for the first time ever. My family had already set up the fake tree, but it worked out because a few days later, I moved into my own apartment. It’s a “tiny home” of 300 square feet, and it’s walking distance to most places I usually go anyway. So I’ve been enjoying the local mini-adventures of setting up my new home and walking the town even when it’s freezing outside. In fact, what was probably my most cultural experience of the year happened within my new city’s limits! I decided to end 2017 by going to seven different churches for their Christmas Eve services. Some I was familiar with, and other provided a whole new kind of experience.

What About This Blog?

It was a record year for JessicaLippe.com. Here were some of your favorite posts and stats:

Most Read Post: Hostelling International: Is It Worth the Membership?

Most Popular Post Written This Year: Fall Foto Fun

My Personal Favorite Post: 11 Travel Hacks that Don’t Require Credit Cards

Top Ten Countries Readers are From: 1. United States, 2. United Kingdom, 3. Canada, 4. Germany, 5. Australia, 6. Philippines, 7. India, 8. France, 9. Netherlands, 10. Italy

2018

Now that we’re up to speed, we are on the cusp of 2018. This year I will be ringing it in at work, of all places! (It seems to be the only place where I can stay up past midnight!) Then, I’m starting a two-month adventure called grand jury duty. Since this involves weekly involvement, I’m not sure how much travel I will be able to fit in for January and February, but I do have a few Wilderness Trails weekends, and my other weekends are mostly open. After that, I’ll be able to use the airline tickets I was given for Christmas to go to Maui, Hawaii!

After that, I’m not sure exactly where life will take me. I’m not even sure if I’ll stay in the area, although I like it here and don’t currently know of any opportunities to move elsewhere. I’m still entering contests in hopes that one will provide me with a free trip. I’d like to travel more, but I have more important non-travel goals.

I’m starting off 2018 with 21 days of no sugar. I’m not sure if you can call it a New Year’s Resolution since I know it won’t last all year, but it’s an effort to get healthier. I’m also committed to getting more serious about writing, and hope to make it a more substantial part of my year. I’m even going to get more motivated about getting a book published. I’ve gone through this process several times before but have always given up before getting accepted by a traditional publisher, so hopefully all this work can finally come to fruition in the year ahead.

Now that you know what I’ve done and what I’ll do, I want to hear from you! What was your highlight of 2017? What do you hope to accomplish in 2018?

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

Traveling Can Be Green, Too!

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

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

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

Green Accommodation

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

Green Packing

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

Green Transportation

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

Green Eating

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

Green Entertainment

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

Green Shopping

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

Holiday Travel: Is It Worth It?

Seeing my first Great Lake (Erie) Thanksgiving weekend 2013.
Seeing my first Great Lake (Erie) Thanksgiving weekend 2013.

With Thanksgiving just around a few days away, people across the country are making travel plans, whether they are for next week or next month. Of course it’s justifiable: people want to see their families during winter holidays, and this may be only time of year that some people can take off from school and work. With millions of people planning trips, should the true traveler go along with the masses?

Thanksgiving is typically a low-key holiday for me. Most Thanksgivings growing up were simply spent at home with just immediate family. There were a few times we made the trip to California to spend the weekend with relatives, and once we even took a frigid Thanksgiving camping trip to Yosemite National Park, but I’m pretty sure every single Thanksgiving was spent in either California or Oregon. This coming Thanksgiving will actually be the first Thanksgiving in four years that I will spend the day with people that I’m related to. The past three years in Nebraska and Ohio, I have been blessed to be connected with a different coworker each year that invites me to be an honorary family member for the occasion. This has even provided me with opportunities to see new places. Two years ago, I discovered the area around little West Point, Nebraska. Last year was the complete opposite of the small-town holiday as I explored metropolitan Cleveland.

Riding the California Zephyr somewhere along the Colorado Rockies.
Riding the California Zephyr somewhere along the Colorado Rockies.

Although I don’t care much about what I do for Thanksgiving (as long as I celebrate it!), I have always gone out of my way to spend Christmas with my family. When I first moved out of Oregon, I wasn’t sure if I would keep this tradition, but I was able to take an affordable train trip from Omaha to Sacramento, and then from there to Klamath Falls where my family picked me up on Christmas Eve morning. In the following years it ended up being more reasonable to fly, but even then it proved to be an adventure, such as last year when the fog delayed me for three days so I had to go to Eugene to catch a red-eye flight!

One of the light displays at the Shore Acres Holiday Lights. The sequence shows the sea lion jumping into the water with a splash!

Even back when I didn’t have to travel to see my family, we would occasionally take a trip around Christmastime. If we didn’t go to Southern California for Christmas, we would always spend Christmas at home, but sometimes we would go on a little trip before or after the 25th. In fact, the first time we went to Mexico was when my family took a cruise the week before Christmas! Another fun destination was camping at the Oregon coast to walk around the intricate Shore Acres Holiday Lights as we sipped hot cider. In fact any trip to the coast was a warmer way to celebrate the Christmas season. When I visited two years ago, my family made an overnight trip to Brookings and went through a bit of California on the way there.

Redwoods
Standing among Redwoods in Northern California, Christmas 2012.

So yes, I love Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, and all the special occasions of winter. Of course, I also love to travel. And as you can see, I’ve done my share of holiday travel… but is it worth it? Let’s weigh the pros and cons:

Pros:

-Students are guaranteed at least a few days off.

-In many industries, it is easier to get this time of year off than any other time. Well, this doesn’t apply if you work in retail, but I was sometimes able to get a day or two off in December when I was a store associate!

-Traveling to see family or do something meaningful makes the holiday even more memorable.

-Sledding, snow shoeing, skiing, and other activities that can only be done during winter weather make for a great excuse to hit the snow caps.

-For those who want to avoid the cold, traveling south can make the winter more pleasant.

-There are some special events limited only to this time of year, such as light displays, living nativities, and old-fashioned Christmas parties.

Cons: 

-Prices jump on everything travel related! It’s not much of a stretch to think of the price of flights, gasoline, or hotels as doubling. Even budget travel resources, such as trains and hostels, have a tendency to rise for certain holidays.

-Many destinations get incredibly crowded. And you thought Black Friday shopping lines were bad!

-If this season eats away too much at your travel budget, this could prevent you from going on trips at other times of year when the weather is better, crowds are smaller, and prices are lower.

-Even in areas with more pleasant weather, you are more likely to be able to do more in the summer months at the same destination.

Although I could come up with more pros than cons for holiday travel, I think each of these cons are pretty negative. So what’s the verdict? Well, if I need to travel in order to properly celebrate a holiday, then by all means I will travel! But I’m not going to go out of my way to book a trip to Bermuda, or take off for an extended snow trip in the Rockies.

Because so many people are unwilling to work as Christmas comes closer, I think this is a perfect time to pick up some extra work. (And then use that extra cash on a later trip!) Several years ago when I worked part-time in retail, as soon as my school went on break I ended up with practically a full-time schedule in order to keep up with the extended shopping hours and cover for my coworkers who could not make it to work. Right now, I just finished my training for my seasonal job at the Harry and David call center, where pretty soon I could be picking up 70 hours per week if I wanted to! (Plus, I get free and heavily-discounted gourmet food and gifts, which- let’s be honest- that’s why I’m really there!) Naturally, jobs like these involve dealing with people who find the holidays to be more stressful than they should be, but when I think of dealing with each cranky customer as putting money in my travel fund, it puts everything in perspective.

Since I don’t have to travel for Christmas this year since I’m already living by my family, I appreciate the fact that the money I could be spending for just a few days of Christmas break can now be used to fund a couple weeks on a future trip. But even though I won’t be going on any extended trips to exotic locations until 2015, I do plan to take several smaller trips over the remaining weeks of the year. Just from writing this post right now, I think I may have convinced myself to make a trip out to the Pacific coast! With my connections and employee perks at Harry and David, I have the opportunity to go on their popular tour where you can see some of the world’s largest popcorn poppers and acres of pear trees. And although Christmas break is a popular travel time, travel business isn’t so great in the weeks before and after, so I may take advantage of discounted travel prices during this time.

In fact, I’m getting ready to go on a trip this very weekend! I’ll be leaving in just a few hours, and I can’t wait to tell you all about it when I get back!

geography, travel tips

The Map on the Kitchen Table

Although I was born in Oregon, I don’t consider myself an official Oregonian until age three. My family moved to California when I was just a few months old, but they later decided that Southern Oregon was truly home and moved back a couple years later. After renting for a short time, we moved into a lovely suburban home that not only had a dining room for our dining room table, but there was a space inside the kitchen for a table as well. I remember going to furniture stores with my parents, until they finally brought a bench seat corner table set into our home. But with my preschooler tendencies, plus the anticipation of another child, my mom was well aware that this table was just one accident away from spilled juice or coloring off the paper. To protect the wood, she decided to cover the table in plastic, but knowing that would look tacky, she made a creative decision that would not only protect the table, but would provide a lifetime of curiosity and learning.

map 001

My mom found a U.S. map about the same size as the table, and laid that out before wrapping the table with a thick plastic sheet. Even though my sister (who wasn’t even born when we got this table) and I are adults now, we know that this protective plastic coating is never coming off- it gives the table its character! Sure, we had to replace the aging map once, and my family has moved, but this kitchen table was sure to find its way in my parents’ current home. Whenever a few of us are gathered around this, it always turns into either a geography lesson or a story about someone’s American Adventure.

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Guests always loved looking at our table. Of course, the first place everyone has to locate is where they call home- which, for many of our guests, has been good old Southern Oregon. People love pointing out their birth town, places they have lived, interesting places they’ve visited, and where their family is from.

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I’ve always appreciated the detail of such a large map as it makes it easy to figure out where exactly my friends and relatives live. Many of my relatives live in Southern California, and I’ve been able to locate every single city they live in! When planning family visits, we often used our finger to trace our route down the I-5. When my parents, sister, and I travel separate from each other, we often gather around this table afterwards and trace out everywhere we went. It’s not quite like joining them on the trip, but it gives the rest of us a more realistic perspective of what the trip was actually like! While living in the Midwest, I would come back for Christmas break and enjoy pointing out the trips I took, especially my long solo road trip between Nebraska and Ohio.

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Nowadays, one of my favorite routes I like to trace on this map is the bus trip I took across the country. I remember while on that trip, probably somewhere in Wyoming, another bus passenger stated that she wished she and her family knew American geography better. I immediately thought of this and told her all about how my family sealed a map on the kitchen table when I was growing up. She was interested in the idea, as many of our guests have been, and I recalled all the fun memories that took place seated at this table. Who would have guessed that, of all things, I would be looking forward to once again seeing the map on the kitchen table?

resources, saving money, travel tips

Free Substitutions for Everyday Expenses

What would you rather spend your money on: a super-amazing trip of a lifetime, or day-to-day costs? Of course you want to be able to live well, but when you’re saving for a trip or other big goal, you may realize that you’re spending money on things that you don’t need to spend money on. But going on a spending freeze does not mean you have to stop enjoying the things you love. It just means you have to go about things differently. Here are twenty-one expenses that many people have, along with some cost-free substitutions.

Instead of paying for network television… many channels upload some of their popular shows onto their website or onto the free version of Hulu. ABC, CBS, and A&E are just some of the channels whose websites you can visit for free shows. Yes, this does mean watching on your computer, but if you really want to watch on a bigger screen, you can consider a one-time cost of buying a cord that will display your computer screen on your television. If your favorite show is not offered online, see if a friend who has that channel would be willing to host a weekly screening night.

Instead of going out to dinner… enjoy time together by cooking a meal at home. Begin by looking up a recipe (for free online, of course) for a dish you’ve never made or tasted before. If you don’t have the ingredients at home, make shopping at the grocery store part of your dinner date! This can be your opportunity to try out crazy cooking methods and use your finest dinnerware. You can even make it formal by busting out the cocktail dress or suit and tie! I realize that technically, this still costs money as you’re buying the ingredients, but you need to eat anyway, right? As long as you’re not purchasing new cookware or exotic foods, this memorable night in can cost just as much as any other meal you cook at home.

A former roommate and I spent an evening shaping and baking pretzels!
A former roommate and I spent an evening shaping and baking pretzels!

Instead of spending money on movies… some production companies have movies available for free online, often available to stream straight from YouTube! There are also dozens of websites dedicated to providing free documentaries to the public. Now this takes care of your movie subscription services, but what about the movie theater experience? If you’re a business owner, ministry leader, or even a blogger, not only can you attend movie screenings for free, but you can see them before they come out. Since getting into the Lifeway Films advanced screenings, I’ve been able to see several free movies over the past few years in the best theaters in town!

Instead of buying books… the obvious recommendation would be the library, but I realize that it is not a viable resource to everyone. Even if you do have a local library, it may not have the kind of selection you want. Many communities have some sort of book exchange, which could be anything from a mailbox on the sidewalk, to a bookshelf in a store, to a whole building filled with free books! Sure, you may have to give up some books, but in return you can get an entire selection of new books! If your area doesn’t have a book exchange, consider starting one up! A great way to get brand-new books is to enter contests, often sponsored by either the author or the publisher. Even if there are no advertised contests, a nice fan letter sent to the author may be returned by free books- possibly autographed!

Instead of shopping online Craigslist, eBay, and other online stores… you can look for a local free group on Facebook. This has a similar philosophy to the Freecycle website, but because it’s on a regularly-accessed social network, it tends to be better utilized. Once you join your local group, all you have to do is either post what you’re looking for, or post something that you want to give away. Your neighbors will then be able to help you out in your endeavor. In addition to this, never underestimate the good old-fashioned method of telling your friends what you’re free-shopping for!

When I was moving, someone on a local Facebook group was fortunate enough to take this custom-made bed out of my hands for free!
When I was moving, someone on a local Facebook group was fortunate enough to take this custom-made bed out of my hands for free!

Instead of purchasing clothing… you can try trading with friends. Of course, this only works if your friends have similar size and style. You can also take up sewing and upcycle your current threads. You can prolong the life of your clothes by patching up holes, or you can give your wardrobe a complete makeover and turn one item of clothing into something else entirely. If you get creative, you can turn a t-shirt into a skirt, or a skirt into a scarf!

I upcycled twelve camp t-shirts into a no-sew blanket!
I upcycled twelve camp t-shirts into a no-sew blanket!

Instead of buying school books… share with a friend who is also taking the class, or borrow from someone who took the same class the previous semester. If you don’t have these kinds of connections, many school libraries, and sometimes local public libraries, carry the current school books and allow students to borrow them for a short time as needed. If you can, contact the instructor before the class starts and ask what books are actually required. (Sometimes what the school thinks is read and what the instructor actually assigns can be different.) All the above options typically only work for books that are not read on a daily basis. You probably will have to buy some books, so find them used for as cheap as you can online, and after your class ends you can sell them directly to another student for almost the same amount that you bought it for. Even though it requires putting a little money down, many students find that this method will help them break even in the end.

Instead of purchasing souvenirs… take lots of pictures. Go geocaching and trade for an item that will remind you of the area. Keep a travel journal. Collect your ticket stubs, itineraries, and brochures. Find rocks, shells, or other natural objects and label where you found them (make sure this is legal before taking them). The souvenirs you want to buy are likely made overseas and simply stamped with your destination’s name. Another bonus of free mementos is that they often better represent your vacation spot.

The only "souvenirs" my friends and I have from this hike are the photos we took and the trinkets we traded in the geocaches.
The only “souvenirs” my friends and I have from this hike are the photos we took and the trinkets we traded in the geocaches.

Instead of giving pricey gifts… find a way to spend time instead of money. Newlyweds may need a house- or pet-sitter while they’re on their honeymoon. First-time parents often need help catching up on housework and yard work, or getting the nursery ready. Not-first-time parents may be looking for babysitting for their older kids or meal preparation. You could also get crafty and make a unique, quality gift out of items you already own. Used gifts are sometimes okay as long as it’s a gift from the heart, such as an antique family heirloom being passed down. Just make sure that your free gifts don’t come across as stingy or unwanted. In some cases it is better to buy a (couponed, on-sale) gift for a dear friend than hoarding away a few extra bucks.

Instead of paying for a pet… pet-sit for your friends and neighbors and you could get paid to snuggle with a furry friend! You can also get your animal fix by volunteering at, or even just visiting, an animal shelter. You could also volunteer or work as a farmhand and be exposed to a variety of creatures! Remember that a pet does not typically fit into a traveler’s lifestyle. You either have to hope to find pet-friendly lodging and camps and pay the extra pet fee, or pay for a kennel or pet-sitter back home. This is a huge expense in addition to the regular expenses of food, immunizations, etc.

Not having pets didn't stop me from playing with my Nebraska neighbor's puppy!
Not having pets didn’t stop me from playing with my Nebraska neighbor’s puppy!

Instead of buying paper products… use reusable! Many people already have plenty of towels and other paper product replacements already in their homes, but even if you don’t have enough cloth towels to replace paper towels, you probably have enough material to make your own. Bandannas can make festive napkins. Old t-shirts can be cut to any size of rectangle for whatever you repurpose them as. Even old socks are great for scrubbing and wiping down when cleaning. If you don’t feel like washing rags, use a small piece of salvaged cloth for the task and then throw it away.

Instead of purchasing periodicals… think about why you’re really reading it. If you only buy magazines to read one or two certain sections, search for those topics on Pinterest and you’ll get thousands of pins linking to articles on that topic. Remember that lots of magazines publish their most popular articles online for free. As for the newspaper, I’m not sure why they’re even still in print, but you can find all that news online and immediately after it happens. If you want something you can hold in your hands, there are free subscriptions, or at least trial issues, to many magazines. They’re getting rare, but they’re still out there! Finally, utilize free magazine racks, check out magazines at the library, and trade magazines with friends. As long as it’s your first time reading it, who cares if the magazine is several months old?

Instead of paying to exercise… work out at home and on the road. If you are traveling and there is no price difference between an accommodation with a pool or workout room and an accommodation that doesn’t offer any workout equipment, choose the place where you can be more active. As long as you have decent walking or running shoes, you can turn any place into a gym. Motivate yourself to exercise more at home by doing small, vigorous tasks such as unloading groceries, walking to the mailbox, or vacuuming. Also, there are many workout videos available for free online streaming. Some may recommend simple exercise equipment, but you can replace a yoga mat with a towel and use water bottles filled with rocks instead of weights.

You can save money on exercise AND transportation if you decide to walk EVERYWHERE like I did on my Niagara Falls trip.
You can save money on exercise AND transportation if you decide to walk EVERYWHERE like I did on my Niagara Falls trip.

Instead of buying shipping material… save the packaging from items shipped to you, cover your address with a new label, and ship it out! If your shipment requires cushioning, you can use already-used wrapping paper, the contents from a paper shredder, or any other needs-to-be-recycled paper from around the house. Oh, and you can also save the bubble wrap that gets sent to you for later use. You can even place fragile items in the center of the package and surround it with other softer, non-fragile items. If you plan to ship through Priority Mail at the US Post Office, don’t even bother trying to find packaging. All post offices provide Priority Mail boxes, envelopes, tape, and address labels for free. Whenever you have to mail just a small envelope, consider if you could send the information online instead. If you’re careful about your shipments, you can get away with only spending money on stamps!

Instead of buying video games and gaming devices… I’m not entirely sure why the gaming industry is so big when there are so many games you can play for free. If you have a smart phone, you’re probably already aware that you can download free gaming apps. There are also many free online gaming sites with many different genres. And a bonus to parents and students: there are a ton of fun, free games that are also educational! But, in my opinion, video games will never be as fun as traditional board games. You probably have a few hiding in the back of your closet; why not pull them out and play a few rounds?

Instead of paying for a hotel room… don’t do it! I understand the merit behind hotels and motels, but I believe that they are used far more than they need to be. Read my article on ten alternatives to hotels. All of them are cheaper than a hotel, and several of the suggestions are absolutely free!

Lounging in a lodge... that we stayed a night in FOR FREE!
Lounging in a lodge… that we stayed a night in FOR FREE!

Instead of an expensive friends’ night on the town… enjoy a night in! Have a potluck (depending on what dish you make, you could actually spend less than you would for your own personal dinner), and spend the night watching movies, playing games, or simply catching up. If you volunteer to host a night like this, your friends will probably realize that they can also host low-key, low-cost get-together at their house. There will be fewer pricey nights in town and more times celebrating friendship in the comforts of each other’s homes.

Instead of spending money on music… many cities of decent size will have free concerts going on at least a few times per month. These may be small, one-man shows inside coffee shops, but this could be great as you’ll really get to know the artist. For in-home entertainment, Amazon often offers free downloads, and up-and-coming artists will give some songs away on their website to get people interested in their music. Of course, if you don’t care about owning music, you have plenty of options for listening to music, such as YouTube, Pandora, Spotify, and, of course, the traditional radio.

A few years ago, I bummed a ride with friends to South Dakota to attend Lifelight, a huge, FREE music festival!
A few years ago, I bummed a ride with friends to South Dakota to attend Lifelight, a huge, FREE music festival!

Instead of buying snack foods… go foraging! First study up on different types of edible plants that are native in your area, and which ones can be poisonous if ingested. Then go into the forest or perhaps even your backyard or another area that doesn’t get sprayed with pesticides or herbicides. Some leaves can be used as spices or to make herbal tea, and there are plenty of other nuts, flowers, grasses, fruits, and roots to enjoy. Foraging may not fill an empty belly, but it will give you a greater appreciation for food and hopefully these wild, organic options will lessen your consumption of junk food!

Instead of spending money on sporting events… watch the kids! In most communities, sporting events for children in middle school and under are free to attend. Even if you don’t have any kids in sports, this is an easy, free way to show your support in the community. Check with the local schools and Little League for game times. You could also check with community clubs, churches, and other organizations that may play intramural sports and ask if you can come watch a game. Local games can be just as interesting as the big leagues. If you’re set on seeing the professionals play and you don’t get any free sports channels, you can stream some games online.

Even some college games are free! When Penn State Men's Volleyball came to challenge Ohio State, it didn't cost me anything to cheer on my cousin!
Even some college games are free! When Penn State Men’s Volleyball came to challenge Ohio State, it didn’t cost me anything to cheer on my cousin!

Instead of paying a monthly phone bill… make phone calls using Google Voice. If you’re in the United States, you can call for free to any other phone number in the United States. However, there are some caveats. First of all, you need to be connected to the internet, which usually isn’t a problem with the prevalent free WiFi and the fact that so many people use data plans. The worst part is that you cannot provide a number for people to call you, and you cannot leave voicemail. But since Google Voice will take care of most of your outgoing calls, consider getting a cheap pay-as-you-go phone for when you need to receive calls and leave messages. You can get a Tracfone for as little as $10 (they even have smart phones for a slightly higher price), and all of their phones come with at least 10 free minutes upon activation. If you prefer texting, there are many websites that will allow you to text over their website, and will even provide recipients with a temporary number for them to text you back.

What swaps have you made to save money for your adventures?

Accommodations, saving money, travel tips

10 Ways to Pay (Almost) Nothing for Accommodations

We all know there’s no such thing as a free ride, but is there such a thing as a free bed? For most travelers, accommodations is their number one trip expense, but it certainly doesn’t have to be that way. You just have to follow this one simple rule: Never stay in a hotel! Hotels provide little more than a bed and a bathroom, and they do nothing in adding a cultural or community aspect to your trip. Instead, try out one of these accommodation options- and save a bunch of money while you’re at it!

1. Friends and Relatives: This is the easiest and cheapest option. All you have to do is figure out who you know that lives near your destination, and call them up. If they’re available, this is a great option because it offers so much more than just a place to sleep. Every time I’ve stayed with someone I know, they’ve offered me a ride, a meal, or even a city tour. Of course, everything depends on whether or not you know someone at your destination and if they’re available, and depending on how well you know them, you may feel as if you’re imposing on them. But this can be a great way to catch up with an old friend, and if you bring a gift from your hometown, it can serve as a unique cultural exchange.

Hostel Dorm Beds in Chicago
My hostel dorm bed at HI-Chicago

2. Hostels: If you’ve read any of my other posts,  you probably already know that I’m a big fan of hostels. This is ideal for the solo traveler, but even couples, families, and groups can save by staying in a hostel. Depending on location, they can range anywhere from $15-45 per person per night, but they’re always a fraction of the cost of a nearby hotel room. In addition, hostels typically provide a guest kitchen, breakfast, WiFi, a commons area, and some degree of concierge service. The cheapest option is to get a bed in a large dorm (which can be co-ed or gender-specific), but if you prefer, many hostels offer private bedrooms and family suites. To save even more, book through Hostelz.com.

Deborah's Guesthouse Bank in Kentucky
I stayed at “The Bank” Guesthouse in Northern Kentucky, where you can sleep inside an old vault!

3. Guesthouses: If you’re traveling as a family or other large group, this may be your least expensive option. At sites like airbnb.com or vrbo.com, you can book anything from a spare bedroom to an entire house directly through the owner. It’s hard to say what to expect from a guesthouse, because each one is so unique. You have to speak with the owner about what to expect, but one of the reasons that guesthouses are becoming increasingly popular is because they often offer all the comforts of home. Because guesthouses are so diverse, you can choose one that fits your needs and lifestyle best, from a downtown high-rise to a country cottage.

Camp Rivercrest
Not only have I camped here, I lived here for two years!

4. Camping: If the goal from your vacation is to get away from it all, staying at a camp will definitely help! Campgrounds are always a low-cost option, and there are many primitive campgrounds that you can stay at for just a few dollars per night or even for free. It is true that the initial start-up costs for camping can be a bit pricey. You’ll need a sleeping bag, food, fire starters, and either a tent or a camper. However, some people convert their van or SUV to sleep in. Others will go to campgrounds where they can rent cabins, yurts, or other lodging, though this can up the price quite a bit. The best part is, once everything is set up, camping can be a vacation in and of itself.

couch
Although no one ever contacted me through Couchsurfing, several visitors slept on my old couch.

5. Couchsurfing: Couchsurfing is an online organization where people can offer travelers a place to spend the night. Although it could be sketchy and awkward to stay at a stranger’s house, you can get background checks and references, and it’s completely free. I’ll admit, while I’ve heard many positive experiences from others who’ve traveled this way, I don’t think it’s for me. But I do have a Couchsurfing account and I even used it once. I found the owner of a hostel who, instead of offering his couch, offered a free hostel bed for one night. By contacting him through Couchsurfing, I got my first night at a hostel for free!

Church with Long, Confusing Name
I’ve spent the night at several churches. This one in South Dakota was not one of them, but I thought it was funny that their name was so long, they needed two signs!

6. Convents and Churches: These nonprofit faith organizations are not typically thought of as accommodations, but some of them definitely are! Some convents and monasteries, especially in Italy and other European countries, help support their ministry by offering low-cost lodging to travelers. I didn’t know about this until recently, but I plan to try this out if I go to Rome! In any country, if you call ahead of time, you may find a church that can offer you a place to sleep, even if it’s on the floor of their fellowship hall (though some clergy may even offer up their homes!). Churches are more likely to open their doors to you overnight if you are traveling as a group and are of the same faith.

Volunteer in Posada de Amor Peru Orphanage
Volunteering at an orphanage in Cieneguilla, Peru, called Posada de Amor

7. Volunteer: I love volunteering while traveling because it gives me a more realistic understanding of what the area is like and gives me the opportunity to “give back” to the community for allowing me to visit. Some organizations will even provide their volunteers with freebies, such as meals, transportation, and, in some situations, lodging! You can search for causes you care about near your destination, or you can download Kirsty Henderson’s e-book, The Underground Guide to International Volunteering: For experiences that go beyond beaches and the backpacker trail. I’m in the middle of reading this book now, so stay tuned when I give you an update on what I think about it!

Overnight Greyhound Bus
Taking a rest stop in Wyoming, right before I spent the night on this bus.

8. Take an Overnight Trip: Whether you travel by plane, train, or bus, be aware that you can also use these services overnight. It’s not the most comfortable way to sleep, and you’ll likely be woken up in the middle of the night, but at least it’s something! After all, riding the bus during the day costs pretty much the same as riding the bus at night, but at least you won’t have to pay for an accommodation that night. Airlines often even give discounts if you choose a “red-eye” flight! In my opinion, trains are the best way to sleep on transportation. In some countries, it’s required to pay a little extra for a sleeper car, but in other countries (such as the United States), you can choose to pay a lot extra for a sleeper car, or you can just pay for a standard train seat and sleep right there! (Trains tend to have more leg room, better-reclining seats, footrests, and quiet hours, so it’s almost, kind of like sleeping in a bed. If you’re driving, you can still apply this principle by either having one person drive while the other sleeps and switch off, or by parking in a large parking lot (such as Walmart) and sleeping there. (But know that not all Walmarts condone this and may even ask you to leave!)

Columbus Greyhound Bus Station
Resting up at the Columbus, Ohio Greyhound bus station

9. Sleep at the Station: This is more of a plan B, but it will do in a pinch. If you’re leaving the next morning, the airport, bus, or train station will probably let you spend the night, as long as they operate 24 hours. If you’ve just arrived at your destination, you can sometimes stay at the station as well. The major problem with this is keeping your things safe. Some train and bus stations offer lockers for small pieces of luggage. I’ve seen some overnighters use small padlocks to secure all the bag’s zippers, and then use a bike lock to attach their luggage to themselves. Of course, you shouldn’t expect to get much, if any, sleep. Some people are also concerned about personal safety. This probably won’t be an issue if you travel with others, but even if you travel by yourself, you should be fine if you stay within sight of a security guard or employee and just try to blend in.

Mennonite Your Way Directory
This is my copy of the current MYW directory. If you think the cover’s great, wait until you see what’s inside!

10. Mennonite Your Way: This is an organization I just found out about last week. Mennonite Your Way is a group that has listings of people who offer lodging to travelers as a way to practice hospitality. When I first heard of this, I thought, “Cool, but I’m not Mennonite.” It turns out that you don’t need to be! Although many of the listings are for Mennonite households, hosts and travelers are not required to be Mennonite, and as long as you’re respectful of your host’s faith, you don’t even have to be Christian. For safety and to ensure that people who use this are aware of the mission, homes are not listed online, but you can order a Hospitality Travel Directory. I was expecting this to be a Xeroxed stack of addresses, but I was surprised when I received a professionally-bound 100-page catalog that started off with more information about Mennonite Your Way and a few articles from the users. Homes are listed by states and provinces, plus other countries in the back. Among the listings are information about things to do in the area and advertising for wholesome supporters. Each listing shows the family’s names, address, phone number, e-mail, how much space they have for visitors, whether they have any kids or pets, occupation, church affiliation, hobbies, and more! Many of them seem to be in rural areas, but some are downtown in big cities. Although staying at someone’s home is donation-based, Mennonite Your Way asks that you offer $10 per adult and $2 per child per night, plus $2 for any offered meals and perhaps a gift from your hometown. I’m tempted to plan a trip just so I can use this great resource!

Travel can be pricey, but hopefully these inexpensive accommodation suggestions, along with all the other resources at this blog, will help your trips to become affordable and attainable!

Accommodations, moving, road trip

Across America By Bus: Nebraska

This is part three of the “Across America By Bus” series.

Some of the most valuable lessons about community were taught to me in Nebraska. I spent two years living near Fremont, and there were many times I had to rely on those around me. Everyone I met there proved to be a true blessing. This time also opened up more travel to me, especially since it was my first time living away from home. Work provided many opportunities for paid travel that I never would have expected, and I was encouraged to travel solo for the first time too. I wanted to make sure to visit this area on my cross-country trip. Everyone turned out to be a blessing once again, even though most of them didn’t even know I was coming!

Camp Rivercrest

It took all afternoon to get from Chicago to Omaha. I got picked up by someone I had never even met before, but she was a roommate of a friend. After hearing a little about her life and that she also had experience at the camp I had worked at, I quickly befriended her. I spent the night in Omaha, and woke up super-early the next morning so a friend could drive me to Camp Rivercrest in Fremont.

Camp Rivercrest Cornfields

The ride at sunrise provided a great opportunity to catch up and share experiences with a fellow traveler. We eventually arrived at the house I would be staying in to unload my gear. I then went to the camp director’s house. He and his wife have two kids, so I knew that they would be up around this time to get ready for school. But the thing was, they had no idea that I was coming to Nebraska, let alone their house! I guess I came a little too early, because no one was up quite yet. I decided to walk along the camp-owned cornfields. When I went back to their house, I could tell they were having breakfast in the kitchen. One of the kids was at the sink by the window, so I tapped on the glass. I don’t know what startled her more: the fact that someone was tapping on the window early in the morning, or that I was there! After everyone’s initial shock, they let me inside, and we caught up before the kids had to catch the bus. Us remaining adults chatted a bit more, and then they proceeded to show me all the changes that had happened in the year I had been gone. So much had happened: five acres were added with new-to-them buildings, an old house was remodeled into offices and meeting rooms, the old offices turned into storage and prayer rooms, and my bedroom suite had been adapted for visiting workers. I knew some of this had happened, but I didn’t realize to what magnitude! (Perhaps the reason I didn’t know was because when I left, they lost their fabulous media manager that would have kept the public updated on these kinds of things. Ha.)

Fremont LakesFremont Lakes

Nebraska was my most restful stop, but I did enjoy visiting Fremont Lakes. I spent the afternoon there with some friends, and we just caught up on life, shared experiences from Ohio (they grew up there), ate food, and splashed around in the lake. It was actually their house that I was spending the night in, so they eventually brought me back home where I rested through the next day.

Platte River at Camp Rivercrest

I walked around camp, reliving the memories. It was refreshing to see all the old lodges, cabins, and outdoor adventure elements. When living here, I enjoyed going to the back of the property overlooking the Platte River. The river was still breathtaking as usual. I eventually found a few former coworkers that I hadn’t seen yet, and one offered me a ride back to the Omaha bus station.

Midwest sky

I did take Nebraska at a much slower pace than anywhere else I went, but I was able to catch up with more people here than anywhere else too. Besides, it was good that I got to take this break midway through the trip, because I would be getting very little sleep the rest of the time!

I’d like to use this post to shout out to Camp Rivercrest, where I lived and worked for two years. If you agree that they should redesign their website (like they’ve been wanting to do for years now), encourage them to call me!