Tag Archives: review

Exploring Oregon: On the Road with Lewis N Clark

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

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

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

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

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

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

How do you make your adventures more comfortable?

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

Advertisements

How to Vacation in Maui on the Cheap

Hawaii is known as an expensive vacation destination, and the island of Maui is no exception. However, my sister and I recently returned from eight nights on this tropical paradise, and we did it on a budget! If you’d like to see Maui, Hawaii without the typical price tag, take a few of our tips.

(Note: Although we did get good deals on our flights, airline tickets involve too many factors, such as season, origin, and personal resources. I’ve decided that, because all the variables that went into our flights probably can’t transfer to yours, to leave this expense out. If you want to save money on flights, there are plenty of articles out there dedicated to just that!)

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

Gear

For the most part, I just used what I already owned to pack my bag. In Hawaii, you can wear shorts and swimsuits year-round, but I also packed a rain jacket for the unpredictable weather changes as well as leggings and a long-sleeve because I wanted to hike Haleakala with its cold summit. Since most of the clothes were compact, it was easy to fit everything into carry-on luggage and not have to pay for a checked bag.

One thing I did need to buy was razors. I ordered a starter pack from Dollar Shave Club, which included a handle, four blades, and some travel-sized toiletries, all for $5. Better yet, I took advantage of a Dollar Shave Club deal on Swagbucks, so I was paid back in rebates.

One item I knew I’d need, but didn’t have was a snorkel. I decided to just rent one in Hawaii. However, before going to the snorkel rental shop, we stopped at a grocery store. There I found snorkels for the same price as a one-day rental. Since my sister and I both knew we’d be snorkeling multiple days, we bought these and made our money back with our first swim. I snorkeled a total of three days and saw some incredible sea life, making it a worthwhile purchase.

Accommodation

We rented dorm beds at Maui’s Banana Bungalow Hostel. This was by far our biggest expense on the island, and one of the most expensive hostels I’ve ever stayed at. But the $51.40 per night was much more reasonable than any Maui resort or vacation home. I suppose the only cheaper option would be camping, but that is only available in remote areas, and I wanted to be close to the action. Plus, the hostel offered more than just a bed to sleep on. Banana Bungalow provided other money-saving measures that I’ll explain through the rest of this post.

Transportation

While most Maui vacationers rent a car, here’s our big money-saving secret: we didn’t drive at all! The main reason I chose to stay at Banana Bungalow was because they offer different tours to different parts of the island each day of the week. I ended up going with them to several famous beaches, Haleakala National Park, and even the Road to Hana. Of course, the drivers/guides work for tips, but these tours were worth more than pricey commercial tours.

Since Banana Bungalow is near downtown Wailuku, we simply walked to town to eat good food and see some incredible sites. Iao Valley is in the rainforest about three miles outside of the city, so we hiked there one day. For other excursions that we took on our own, we utilized Uber and Lyft. As it was our first time using these rideshare apps, we got registration bonuses, and I also used my Swagbucks to get a free $25 Uber gift card. We would just compare prices between Uber and Lyft and go with whatever was cheapest for our situation. (Use Uber promo code jessical42262ue to get a $15 Uber ride for free! For Lyft, use promo code LIPPE15551 for a special discount.)

Activities

Thankfully, most of Maui’s attractions don’t cost a dime. All beaches are open to the public. Swimming is free. Hammocking is free. Hiking is free. Most parks are free. With the Banana Bungalow tours, we didn’t even have to pay for gas or parking. The only activity expense I had with these tours besides tip money was the national park entry fee into Haleakala.

Since my sister’s birthday was in the middle of our trip, we decided to celebrate at Maui Tropical Plantation. We originally weren’t going to take the tour and instead enjoy the free botanical walking paths and my gift to her would be a meal at the restaurant. But then we changed our minds on the restaurant and decided to eat from the less costly coffee and ice cream shops, so then my birthday gift to her was paying for the tram tour. It was $20 per person and included lots of sights, information, and fruit!

Food

Admittedly, this was the most difficult category to keep on a budget, and I definitely made a few splurges. Most food in Hawaii is expensive, so I didn’t want to be paying exorbitant prices for the same food I eat at home. I also wanted opportunities to taste local cuisine. However, I did pack a variety of snacks so that I didn’t have to buy food in airports, and I used these snacks to supplement a couple of meals in Hawaii as well.

The hostel offered make-your-own pancakes every morning, so breakfast was covered. Often while cooking in the communal kitchen, others would make food and offer leftovers to everyone. There were even free shelves in the fridge and pantry, so that provided a few ingredients.

The tours stopped at grocery stores such as Safeway and Foodland so we could load up on reasonably-priced food. These stores have local, grown-in-Hawaii produce sections, so I focused my shopping there. We also bought fresh fruit at Maui Tropical Plantation’s market and packaged goods at an Asian market down the street from our hostel. We even got food at Costco. The restaurant menu had some different choices from our local Costco, but still had $1.99 pizza and $1.50 hot dogs!

We did go out to eat several times, but not to fancy sit-down restaurants. We happened to be in Wailuku during their First Friday street fair, so we loaded up on all kinds of local cuisine from the various food stands and trucks. We ate at food trucks and stands a couple other times, like on the Road to Hana where we split a roadside meal served on a banana leaf. (We passed on the banana bread when we realized it was from a bakery a block away from our hostel. We walked there the next morning and got the banana bread for a fraction of the price!) We also ate at a few walk-up restaurants. We even ate at McDonald’s, but I only ordered off their unique local menu. Spam and eggs, anyone?

Shopping

I got a few mementos from this trip, mostly free. I wrote in my journal every day. I pressed a flower in its pages. I brought my National Parks passport so I could add a Haleakala stamp. And of course I took lots of pictures!

Toward the end of our trip we went to Lahaina, which was a good place for shopping. There were fairly good prices at ABC Stores, where I got chocolate covered macadamia nuts and a bracelet. Out of respect for preserving the natural beauty on Maui, I did not smuggle out any coral, sand, or rocks.

Maui did end up costing more than my typical frugal trips, but we were able to have a good time without breaking the bank. I hope you’ll be able to enjoy Maui on a budget, too!

How to Vacation in Maui on the Cheap

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

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!

Lake Livin’

This summer I found what may very well be my new favorite company. They make products that have made my travel life and even my home life better on a day-to-day basis. They’re called Lake Livin’ but I’ve taken their products to the pool, to the bay, and even to places that don’t even have bodies of water!

It all started a few months ago when I dropped my phone in the toilet. AGAIN. Most of the phones I’ve owned have been lost due to some sort of water damage. I tried to dry it out and keep it overnight in rice, but since I had already cracked the screen last year while backpacking in Thessaloniki, there was no hope. I used this opportunity to get a phone upgrade. Later on, I went to Eddie Bauer and discovered that they had waterproof phone cases on clearance. I bought one, but it was impossible to use my phone while it was in this case. I’m so glad I found Lake Livin’, because their phone bag keeps my phone safe while still being able to call, text, take photos, and browse the internet!

But it takes more than one product to make a good company.

Ever since getting my new car, I’ve enjoyed exploring more places. The problem is I didn’t have a good place to set my GPS. I wanted to keep it next to the clock, but it slid off too much. The Lake Livin’ non-slip dash mat has been like having an extra set of hands in my car! I mostly use it to keep my gate opener in place because I have a hard time finding anywhere else, and also for my GPS when I use that.

Whether at home or away, the Lake Livin’ ringer tee has been pretty awesome to me. The first time I wore it, I actually got compliments about it from someone waiting in line behind me in the store! One of the places I recently wore my Lake Livin’ tee was on my trip last week. One morning I took pictures with it in the back of my hostel. Can anyone guess where I was?

DSCF5364

The Nearsighted Traveler with a Long-Term Vision

You’ve seen pictures of me that look like this:

DSCF5023

And you’ve also seen pictures of me that look like this:

DSCF3937

The obvious similarity between these two photos is that I have awesome selfie skills, but do you see the big difference? Yep, I’m a part-time glasses wearer!

When you see a picture of me not wearing glasses, it isn’t because I’m wearing contacts. I’m nearsighted so I need to wear my lenses for activities like driving, but the rest of the time my vision is good enough that prescription eyeglasses are optional, depending on whether I want to be able to make out the details in my sightseeing. I’ve actually never worn contacts; glasses seem so much more traveler-friendly!

Contacts require a lot of equipment: several spare lenses depending on how long your trip is, plus contact solution in a bottle that is probably too big to qualify for a carry-on liquid! They also take time to put on that could be spent enjoying travel. I really like how glasses can just be carried around in their lightweight case and thrown on as needed. Unfortunately, there are downsides to traveling with glasses too. One is a style issue. Your glasses will stand out too much if they don’t match the style of the clothes you’re wearing! I’m also afraid of losing or breaking them. My health insurance only covers one new pair of glasses every few years, which allows no leeway for a spare. That’s what led me to search for cheap glasses online.

I found a solution to my vision problems with GlassesShop! Well, I guess my optometrist was the one that found the solution, but I just took the prescription I was given at the doctor’s office and used it to order a second pair of glasses online. The folks at GlassesShop offer kind customer service, a wide variety of frames to choose from, lenses for both customized prescriptions and sunglasses, and discounts! (Keep reading for a free coupon code!) Because these glasses ship from China, there’s not as quick of a turnaround as you can expect from your neighborhood optometrist, but that’s a small price to pay for such a big savings! The retro-looking cateye glasses I chose arrived recently, and I’ve already gotten so much use out of them!

IMG_0411

My cousin got married in June, which meant a lot of miles and hours driving along the I-5 to get to Southern California and back. I tried my GlassesShop glasses when it was my turn to drive, and they worked great. I love how I can now alternate my glasses to best match my dress. I may even end up getting another pair from GlassesShop because they’re so cheap! And I’ll let you in on a little secret to make them even cheaper: use the coupon code GSHOT50 at checkout to receive 50% off eyeglasses or sunglasses with free lenses (sales frames excluded). 
IMG_0403

Do you wear glasses? Even if you only wear sunglasses, tell me how you travel with them! 

Please note that I was provided with a free pair of glasses for the purpose of this review. No other compensation was made. The above information is my honest opinion about my new glasses.

 

“Cuppow!” My New Supertraveler Catchphrase

When I first heard the word “Cuppow”, I imagined Batman and Robin fighting off a bunch of villains, but right when they were about to punch, this word “Cuppow!” flashes across the screen. I quickly learned that it means something else entirely, but it’s still associated with superheroes of travel in my book.1461471558967240997310

Cuppow is changing the way that I drink liquids. It’s a drinking lid that looks a lot like what you’d find topping your cup at Starbucks. Cuppow is different in that its purpose is to reduce plastic consumption and keep cups and lids out of landfills. This lid attaches to a canning jar (both wide mouth and regular size Cuppows are available), and provides you with a unique beverage container!

My favorite part of the Cuppow is that I’m spilling much less often than when I just carry around an open cup. I’m a klutz! But with my Cuppow and attached Mason jar, I’ve been able to stay well-hydrated and spill-free in the following locations:

A trip to Gold Beach

Driving to and through Wildlife Safari

-About a dozen Grants Pass jaunts

Just about anywhere I go in my new car– where I definitely don’t want any spills or leaks to ruin the exterior!

-All the time at home- now I can have a cup in the living room, kitchen, or bedroom without spilling all over the floor like I tend to do!

I really like that the Cuppow is sneakily encouraging me to keep healthy. It’s increased my daily water intake, and I’ve also used it to consume herbal teas. (And okay, maybe I used my Cuppow to drink hot chocolate once… or three times.) Now that the weather’s warming up, I’m excited to use it to transport smoothies. No matter what I drink from my Cuppow, it will always be a little healthier to drink from it since it’s BPA and BPS free. The healthy aspects extend to the environment since Cuppows are made in the USA out of food grade recycled materials and a portion of the proceeds go to charities.

The strength the stop spills in their tracks, the portability to go anywhere, and the power to save the world from disposable waste… who is this superhero? Cuppow! Click here to get your own supertraveler! 

 

I was provided with a complementary Cuppow for the purpose of this review. No other compensation was made. I just genuinely love my Cuppow!

Disney Parks: US vs. France

DSCF2731

While in Paris, I took a day trip to Disneyland. I was fortunate that my parents’ favorite family vacation was going to Walt Disney World, so I went there several times when I was young. When I was even younger, we would take day trips to Disneyland while visiting relatives in Southern California. It was pretty much a no-brainer to blow my daily budget for the opportunity to go to a Disney Park while abroad!

Needless to say, I loved the experience and my new goal is to visit the Asian Disney Parks. (And also go to Disneyland’s California Adventure. How have I not been to that park yet?) But when asked if I liked Disneyland Paris more or less than Disneyland in the US, I’m not entirely sure what to say. So today, I’m going to break down the perks of the parks in the United States and France, and you can help me decide which one is better!

Price

DSCF2779
Disneyland Paris, France

 

 

US: At Disneyland in Anaheim, California, a one-day ticket is $99 for anyone aged 10 or older. This only lets you into either California Adventure or Disneyland. To get into both, it is an extra $40 for a park hopper ticket. Walt Disney World near Orlando, Florida, has a higher price for their Magic Kingdom at $105, but the other three parks are only $97 for ages ten and up. A park hopper pass at the Magic Kingdom is $64. Note multi-day tickets do lower the cost per day, and these prices were taken January 26th, 2016. Tickets in more tourist seasons do cost more.

France: Disneyland Paris has a drastic seasonal price difference, due to lack of year-round warm weather like California and Florida. Right now a winter ticket starts at $64 for ages 12 and up, but a ticket that can be used any day of the year is $115. These tickets are valid for both of the parks (or, as they say in France, “parcs”), so no park hopper pass is needed. This is the price you get from the US website, but if you use the international website, you’ll find winter tickets starting at 47 euros and year-round tickets at 74. This is usually cheaper, so purchasing from the international version of the website will save you lots.

Winner: Disneyland Paris No matter how you look at it, it’s a lower price!

Transportation

DSCF2789
Walt Disney Studios, France

US: I love taking the Walt Disney World Magical Express from the Orlando airport to the resort my family stays at, and then the free bus service between the Disney hotels and parks. It’s probably the only positive part of US Disney’s current transportation situation. I remember when California Adventure was built in Anaheim, and Disneyland had to go from a spacious parking lot to a multi-story garage. Although I’ve only used the bus transportation in Florida (which takes you right to the park entrance), the parking lots did look spacious, although many people have to take the tram because they park so far away.

France: I purchased the Disneyland Paris Express, which picks you up from one of several downtown Paris locations and escorts you to the Disneyland parking lot for 99 euros. (Neither of the US Disney Parks offer a similar service from LA or Orlando.) The parking lot was spacious, but surprisingly far away from the entrance and it took several minutes and moving walkways until I could even see the parks. I liked this service, but if I were to do it again, I would instead take the metro. It costs about the same as the extra cost of the Disneyland Paris Express ticket, but it’s faster and brings you closer to the entrance. You actually pass underneath one of the Disneyland Paris resorts on your walk into the park!

Winner: Disneyland Paris Neither country has perfect transportation. I do wish the buses could get closer to the park entrance, but there are more options to get around and this park seems to be better connected to the city.

Parks

DSC00088
Animal Kingdom, Florida

US: The original park, Disneyland, is in California. The turn of the century brought a second park to Disneyland, called California Adventure. Over in Florida, Walt Disney World consists of the Magic Kingdom (similar to the Disneyland park), Epcot, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom, plus a couple of water parks and other fun attractions.

France: The first park in Disneyland Paris is Disneyland, which of course is pretty similar to the Magic Kingdom or the original California park. The second and final park is Walt Disney Studios, which, while it has a several unique attractions, is most comparable to Hollywood Studios.

Winner: US Disney Parks It would be harder to determine a winner if I were only comparing Disneyland Paris with Disneyland in California. But with Walt Disney World, it’s no contest. The French Pavilion in Epcot alone had as much French culture as all of Disneyland Paris.

Rides

DSCF2768
Disneyland Paris’ Small World portrayal of the United States

US: Being the oldest parks, most of the famous Disney rides originated in the United States. Instead of listing all the attractions that can also be found in Europe or Asia, I’ll point out a few of the unique highlights. A longtime favorite ride of mine has been the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. This one is also in France, but the US version offers a longer ride. The Animal Kingdom has completely unique rides, including several with real life animals! And while Epcot is still in my home country, rides like Spaceship Earth, The Seas, Mission: Space, and Ellen’s Energy Adventure have me thinking about the world as a whole.

France: Most rides, especially in the Disneyland Parc, are carbon copies of United States originals. But the French have a few winners of their own. “Moteur, Action”, is a show that was brought to Hollywood Studios as “Lights, Motors, Action”. Unfortunately, that show can now only be seen in France as it was closed in the US for the upcoming Star Wars renovation. An attraction that hasn’t been brought to the States yet is “Ratatouille: The Adventure”. This is a fun 3-D ride around French fine dining from a rat’s perspective. US parks should take note on this ride’s creativity!

Winner: US Disney Parks This one was REALLY hard to decide. In the end, my tiebreaker was that The US copied very little from other nations’ parks, and also that several parks means a wider variety of rides are offered. If I had to take the average ride from each country, I think it would be a tie.

Cleanliness

DSC00162
Epcot, Florida

US: When you ask an adult why they take their family to Disney Parks instead of a competitor, they don’t say it’s because of the rides or the characters or the price. It’s because “it’s clean!” Every other amusement park I’ve ever been to had an undertone of sketchiness to it. I know that they were probably perfectly nice parks, but Disney’s cleanliness standards have just set the bar too high.

France: Disney’s need for clean translates into French, too! Like the US parks, you won’t find messy gum for sale, but you will find a trash can within a few feet of wherever you’re at. Also like the US parks, smoking is only allowed in designated areas. Unfortunately, this is not enforced quite as well as some of my time waiting in the queues involved choking on smoke from people ahead of me.

Winner: US Disney Parks I’ve seen people smoke outside of designated areas in Walt Disney World too, but the reputation of cleanliness is better displayed here.

Castle

US:

DSC00174
Magic Kingdom, Florida

France:

 

DSCF2744

Disneyland Paris, France

Winner: Disneyland Paris For no other reason than I love how the sides have retaining walls, making grass grow halfway up the castle!

Disney Parks

So I guess it is possible to break Disney down into categories and determine a winner for certain elements, but I still don’t know who should win overall. Which park sounds like a winner to you?

How to Travel with Free Gift Cards

I’m in the beginning stages of planning my next big trip. This time around, I’m challenging myself to see how much of a quality trip I can obtain for free. And now, I am pursuing that goal in part with the earning site Swagbucks. (If you are not yet a part of Swagbucks, click here so you can sign up. Both of us will earn a sign-up bonus if you do!) So, what can you get for free with Swagbucks? Well, basically anything related to travel!

Free Attractions 

South Dakota 010

You probably already know that Groupon offers great deals on travel and attractions. It’s not uncommon to go to the site and find deals for 50% off. But what if you could use Groupon to get 100% off? You can with Swagbucks! Use your earned points to buy Groupon gift cards, ranging from $15-$100.

I just quickly visited the Groupon site with my Oregon zip code, and in return I was offered a ton of travel deals! Steep discounts on hotels in popular tourist cities, half-price admission to various animal encounters. and deals on water activities like whale watching or white water rafting were just a few. If you need clothing or food for a trip, Groupon has offers for that too.

You can also use Groupon to earn swagbucks! If you’d like to purchase a Groupon, purchase it through Swagbucks’ site. For Christmas, I bought my sister a Groupon to a local attraction. By using Swagbucks, I got back 7 points for every dollar I spent. This is a fantastic deal, as most of the shopping deals only return 1-3 points per dollar!

Free Gas and Auto Repairs

Explorer

The Rewards Store on Swagbucks as an entire category labeled “Gas Cards”. Click on it and you will see gas cards for several different companies in various denominations. If you’re going anywhere that involves driving, gasoline seems like an expense that you can’t get out of. But if you use your swagbucks to get one of these free gas cards, that’s one expense you can eliminate!

Need to change your oil or have some other work done on your road trip car? You can take care of this too! Next to the gas cards, you will find some gift cards for Jiffy Lube.

Free Food

wpid-img_20150726_124256_721.jpg

Restaurant.com seems to be a popular way to get discounted dining lately. It is kind of like a Groupon site specifically for local restaurants. Also like Groupon, you can turn Restaurant.com from a good deal into a free deal by using your swagbucks to buy a free gift card.

If you don’t have enough swagbucks to get a Restaurant.com gift card, you can purchase one through swagbucks and earn 12 points for every dollar spent.

For specific restaurants, you can trade swagbucks for gift cards to places like Starbucks, Burger King, Cold Stone Creamery, Panera Bread, Olive Garden, and Applebee’s, just to name a few. Would you rather shop for groceries than eat out? Swagbucks has you covered. Get a free gift card to Sam’s Club, WalMart, or Whole Foods

Free Outdoor Activities

00000023

If you like outdoor adventure or simply more rugged travel, then you have at least stepped inside a store such as REI, Bass Pro Shops, or Cabela’s. Guess what? You can earn gift cards to all these places, plus other companies like Columbia or Foot Locker, and sport quality gear on your next outdoorsy trip.

Free Travel-Specific Gift Cards

031

How does free airfare, hotels, or cruises sound? Okay, it may take a long time to earn enough swagbucks to get a completely free rate, but these gift cards will at least bring in a nice discount!

Currently the only airfare gift cards are from Southwest. For cruises, you can choose from Royal Caribbean or Celebrity Cruises. Hyatt offers gift cards for their hotels, and you can also get gift cards for travel sites such as Hotels.com and Orbitz. The hotels brands offer a special deal even if you purchase the gift cards in cash. Earn between 1 and 3 points for every dollar spent when you order through Swagbucks.

Free Money for Anything

wpid-wp-1442219197240.jpg

Everything I’ve mentioned above makes up for just a tiny part of what is free for the taking at Swagbucks. You can also buy gift cards for clothes, beauty supplies, and even charity donations. I think they can pretty much cover any expenses associated with travel, but we all know that sometimes, there are those random expenses that just pop up. That’s where cold, hard cash comes in. You can use Swagbucks to purchase PayPal gift cards.

When I get PayPal money, I immediately transfer it to my bank account. Then I use my rewards credit card to pay for things, and pay off the credit using the money I got from PayPal. That means I’m getting money back for spending money that was essentially free to me anyway!Travel Free Gift CardsHave you ever earned or gotten something for free? Share about it in the comments!

“Wish You Were Here!” and Other Travel Articles

 

Traveling has allowed me to widen opportunities as a writer. Most of my published work has been devotionals or advice for running camps. But recently, more of my work has become travel-related. Here are a couple to share:

The Essential Travel Packing List for Moving Overseas

This is from a really cool site with resources on how to travel, especially if you’re interested in moving overseas or teaching English abroad. I wrote two pieces for them, and here’s the first to be published, The Essential Travel Packing List for Moving Overseas!

teddy-828506_1920

Wish You Were Here!

I write a lot for Girlz 4 Christ Magazine. I kind of have to, being the editor! I wrote several articles for the Winter 15/16 issue, including an interview with the Silver Ring Thing National Touring Team, a review of my latest favorite devotionals, a handbook for babysitting, and the secret that will have everyone forgetting about their diets as they indulge in your Christmas treats, plus a few others. For the final article in this issue, I decided to take a step back from my traditional writing and make my first-ever photo essay! I really like how it turned out. You can read all of the articles I just mentioned, plus columns from other incredible writers, by getting a free subscription to Girlz 4 Christ Magazine. Click here to visit the website and sign up!

 

What I’ve Learned in Reviewing European Hostels

image

As I’ve been traveling about Europe, I’ve learned so many things! Since I’ve stayed in four different hostels so far, this type of accommodation is one of the things I’ve been educated on! I stay in North American hostels when I can, but since hostels are much more common in Europe, especially in big tourist cities, they compete by having a particular “edge”. For some, their edge is a rock-bottom rate. For others, it’s being in a great location. Still others boast a social environment, high standards of cleanliness, or comfort. While the hostels often master several of these traits, I don’t think it’s possible to master them all. There have to be trade offs. Having a party atmosphere sacrifices offering a quiet place to relax. Being up-to-date means losing the building’s historical value. When traveling in Europe, it’s important to know what aspects you’re looking for in a hostel and what offers don’t really matter. For me, I find it necessary to be a good price, walking distance to most attractions, WiFi connected, and female-only dorm options. Room security, regular cleaning, and breakfast are somewhat important, but I can make due if they’re not up to snuff. Social atmosphere and handicap accessibility are not taken into consideration at all when I select a

image

ho

ste

l.

Of course, your priorities are probably different than mine. If you are a man in a wheelchair, you probably don’t care about female-only dorms, but handicap accessibility is a must! Because we all differ in what matters most, my goal in reviewing European hostels is to pinpoint what each hostel is best at, while also bringing to light the things that aren’t exactly their “edge”. My first review about BVJ Champs-Elysees Monceau in Paris has been published. You’ll see that they rock when it comes to breakfast and location, but you’ll also notice some sacrifices they had to make.
Click here to read my review of my Parisian hostel on Hostelz.

image

com!