When you think about traveling you probably imagine an exotic white sand beach in South America or a cobblestone road somewhere in the European countryside, trying the local food and exploring the area while adapting to the culture. Sure, this is part of it, and it’s the good part – it’s what makes the not so fun parts of traveling all worth it. Before you plan your next big trip make sure you know the sometimes ugly truth about what traveling really entails.
First of all, I want to point out that there is a major difference between going on vacation and traveling. Being on vacation is great. You usually get to relax or partake in some fun activities while avoiding your job or your kids or whatever else. You might have someone waiting on you or cleaning up after you. Traveling (or at least my kind of traveling) involves plane, train, car, boat etc. rides to different locations with everything on your back with no real downtime.
I travel a lot. Just this past month I’ve been to Sarasota, FL and Austin, TX and I am taking off to Sedona, AZ in a few weeks. This is what life looks like as a travel writer… or even as a freelancer – I can work from anywhere. I’ve learned a few hard truths about traveling over the past few years but I’ve also learned how to make the journey easier and hassle-free. I’ve also learned how to save a little bit of money.
Perfect your toiletry bag. Your hygiene standards might drop below average. It may sound gross but it’s true. When you’re hopping on and off planes and living out of your backpack you’ll quickly learn that sanitary wipes, mouthwash, dry shampoo, and deodorant are your best friends. You may not have the luxury of showering or even freshening up while you’re jet-setting so having those essentials in your bag is a must. Flying can also really mess with your skin. For me, being on a plane dries me out and can cause breakouts – plus I always look extremely tired when I get to my destination. I always have hydrating facial cleansing wipes, acne spot treatment, and an under eye roller in my bag to fix the flaws caused by flying.
Invest in a good pair of shoes. Comfort and capability are important here. I once found myself sprinting through an airport in my Birkenstocks and that was a big mistake – I saw them closing the door as I was running up to the gate and I ended up missing my flight. Damn shoes. I know that wearing tennis shoes with jeans is a fashion faux pas but seriously no one cares if you look cute at the airport. Get a good pair of sneakers that are not only comfortable but can also get the job done if you need to make a last minute take-off. You’ll also be on your feet a lot while traveling – walking to your transportation or hotel, walking to the local coffee shop to work, around wherever you are, walking, walking, walking – so you’ll need a good pair of shoes if you don’t want sore feet.
Get a carry-on bag that does it all. You want to find something that’s easy to carry, small enough to fit in an overhead bin or even on your lap if you’re taking a bus or train yet big enough to fit all of your things. You also need something that is easy to keep organized – so look for a bag with pockets and sections that make sense and provide easy access. You shouldn’t have to completely unpack your bag to find one specific thing.
Pack smarter. I used to be one of those people who packed way too much and ended up wearing the same thing over and over on every trip. No more! Before I head out I plan out exactly what I need. Usually this consists of jeans and both a casual top and a nicer blouse, tank, or sweater in case I go out to dinner or the bars, a work-out/hiking outfit, a jacket, PJ’s, either a pair of cute sandals or boots depending on where I’m going, sneakers, socks, underwear, and toiletries. I always have my laptop, camera and cellphone and their respective cords with me as well. What I just described can get me through about 5-7 days traveling and I can fit this all into my carry-on backpack. You can make it work with limited options and still look good.
Bring a Nalgene. Airport water costs about $5. When you travel as much as I do, that adds up. Bring your own empty water bottle with you and fill it up at the water fountain. Not only will this save you money at the airport but other places as well – think about hotels, parks, the gym – basically anywhere you would need to purchase water.
And snacks. Always bring a snack. Like water, food at airports is expensive. Bring something simple and easy to pack like trail mix or a granola bar. This will save so much money by not having to grab something at an airport shop. Something I always like to do is save my in-flight snack (if I’m not hungry) for later.
On that note, stay hydrated and don’t forget to eat. This is not something that happens to me because I guzzle water like a fish and I never skip a meal. But for some people, I’m sure that with all the hustle and stress that comes along with traveling it might be easy to forget to drink some water or have a snack. Being dehydrated is no fun and can seriously ruin your trip so here’s your friendly reminder to drink plenty of water and eat throughout your day of travel.
Coffee is your friend. Traveling is exhausting. Even if you’re just sitting on a plane or in a car or a bus or whatever, traveling drains you. I usually take the red-eye flight because it’s cheap and you get an entire day at a location rather than a half day, and I’m always pooped. You don’t want to travel somewhere just to sleep (unless you’re on vacation – remember, there’s a difference.) You want to enjoy your surroundings and in my case, I want to do my job so I can’t afford to sleep. For this, there’s coffee.
You need to be adaptable. Flights get delayed. Reservations get messed up. Baggage gets lost. You lose your wallet. Your phone dies. People don’t show up. This is life. Learning to not totally freak out and feel like the world is ending when something like this happens is so important. I recently missed a flight (totally my fault) and instead of losing my mind and letting it ruin my day, I went online and got a ticket for later in the day, left the airport, got a Bloody Mary, and then went and sat on the beach for a few hours. It turned out to be a great day and I still got to where I needed to go before sundown. If you’re prone to “bad luck” I suggest using Southwest when you fly – this is not an advertisement for them but I want to give them a shout out because in my experience they are the only airline that lets you change flights with no charge (as long as the prices match up) and they are just overall flexible and the best. They don’t even charge you for a carry-on and one checked bag. They will reimburse you if they make a mistake – plus, drink tickets! Thank you, Southwest.
Create an on-the-go workout plan. For me, this applies more to when I’m on a road trip. If you’re traveling and staying in a hotel you can use their gym or go for a run through town which is what I usually do. When you’re on the road, it’s not that simple. You should create a workout plan that requires no equipment or weights. You can pull over at a rest stop every couple of hours or do it first thing in the morning. Your plan doesn’t need to be intense but enough to counter the miserable all day sitting that is a road trip and also get your blood pumping and endorphins up. A few simple stretches, some squats, lunges, high knees, pushups and arm circles should do the trick.
For my final piece of advice – enjoy the journey. Cliché, I know, but it’s great advice.
I love traveling and I live for road trips. I am most at peace when I am out in the wilderness sleeping under the stars. But I am always with someone, never alone. When I decided to take this two week solo road trip, it was because I had been stuck at a desk job for two years with limited vacation time. I was so over it and so stir crazy I was about to burst. I had to take this trip, even if no one could go with me, for my own sanity and happiness. I needed a reset. So, I put in my two weeks notice and started planning.
Portland was the fourth stop on my trip. I had already visited friends in Jackson and Boise. My boyfriend flew out to meet me in Seattle where we spent the weekend wandering the city like true tourists and exploring the rainforest coast. Here in Portland, I was truly alone for the first time. I had no one to stay with and I didn’t know a single person in the city.
I was a little nervous when I first woke up in my empty hotel room. For a minute, I didn’t know what to do. Then I realized I could do whatever I wanted. There didn’t need to be a conversation about making plans or deciding on what works best for other people. It was just me. I got in my car and drove about 20 miles out of the city along the Columbia River. A huge tourist attraction, Multnomah Falls, was my destination.
You’ve probably seen pictures of this massive, incredible water fall. I think it’s used as a generic screen saver photo on computers. It’s the one that falls into a high pool, broken up by a foot bridge, and then a second falls down to the bottom where the river continues. Seeing it in person was almost unexplainable, a feeling I struggle to put into words. The size of the water fall, the power behind it, the cool spray that hit you even standing so far away, the lush green forest that surrounded it – it was truly something else. Standing in front of this I felt so small, yet so empowered. I couldn’t help but foolishly smile from ear to ear. I walked up to the foot bridge to see it from a different perspective, this one much closer.
The trail continued up and I decided to keep going, to hike the whole thing to the top. The trail was extremely steep and my calves were burning almost instantly, but I wasn’t stopping. On the way up I saw every shade of green in the leaves and ferns and moss. There were multiple spots where water was trickling down the rock canyon walls around me. The tree roots weaving in and out of each other. It was enchanting.
At the top I observed a few things. First, the people: there was a group of teenagers sitting by the water smoking pot, not trying to hide it at all. A young couple also sitting by the water on a blanket eating sandwiches. A father and son standing on the look-out platform looking at the view. A large family taking picture after picture. And me.
The look-out platform is not something for anyone who’s afraid of heights. It jets out over the rocks and the view is straight down. Here I could see the waterfall dropping beneath me and the river running strong out in front of me. I could also see all the people down below, and all the cars in the parking lot, and the drivers on the road heading back into the city. I stood there and just stared for a few minutes before making my descent. This was the moment I had been searching for. This moment was the entire reason why I took this trip.
At home in Colorado, I hike all the time, it’s one of my favorite past times. In fact, it’s sort of my religion, as cheesy as that sounds, but true. However, I very rarely hike alone. When I do, I’m not really alone because I always bring my dog with me. This solo hike was a special treat.
Once back in Portland city limits, I walked from my hotel out to the river front and through the park. I walked into the downtown area past the university and all the store fronts. I found myself in line at Voodoo Donut where I got three large donuts that I proceeded to eat for dinner that night and breakfast and lunch the following day.
Traveling alone can be so freeing and it’s something I highly suggest every woman do at least once in her lifetime. It can teach you a lot about yourself and allow you the time and head space to accurately evaluate your life. I don’t like spending too much time alone, and this was the first time I traveled by myself. The experience changed me, and opened me up to a part of myself I didn’t know was there all along.
I could have been done after this, just got back in the car and drove home. However, I stayed in Portland a few more days and then continued south. California, is a whole different story.
September 6 2015
The rain had cleared up by morning so we were able to make a small fire and defrost while eating some breakfast. We packed up camp, stopped briefly to cast to some trout, and then we were back on the road. The drive north west was a different landscape than we had seen previously. There were flat valleys that were almost desert like and mesas standing alone.
We got to Grand Junction just before 5pm and found our first winery. We tasted wine, chatted with the owner, bought a bottle, grabbed a map and moved onto the next winery.
Same drill at the next stop. We tasted wine, chatted, bought a bottle, also bought wine infused cheesecake, and moved onto the next vineyard.
Whitewater Hill Vineyards
Our last stop was at Hermosa Vineyards, and we saved the best for last. We pulled into the winery which was actually just someone’s house and garage. Everything was closed up. We saw an older man walking around the back side of the house and we asked if he was still open for business, we waved us in and opened up the garage for us. After tasting the wine he asked us if we were in a hurry. No, we weren’t. He invited us into the back and gave us a special batch of cherry port wine and he filled our glasses to the top and led us to the back porch of his house. We sat out there and talked for over an hour. We bought his last bottle of cherry port wine. We were buzzed from the wine and driving farther into the mountains to find camp was a bad idea. So we booked a room.
I took a much needed shower, we got take-out Chinese food, drank the wine from Ptarmigan and Whitewater Hill (saving the port wine for a special occasion) and watched a movie.
Tomorrow, homeward bound.
September 4 – 5 2015
First stop, Ouray Colorado
Ouray didn’t work out as planned. I thought leaving work two hours early would land us at the base of Mt. Sneffels to set up camp for the night and put us right where we needed to be to get an early start of hiking. GPS said it would take just under 6 hours. It actually took about 8 to arrive in the town just before dark. Following both the map and phone GPS, we ventured down a dirt road with camp sites scattered on each side, so it looked promising. With Clint driving we continued down the dirt road and got to a split where we went right, still following the map. The road quickly turned into what was clearly for off road 4 wheel drive machines and not our Mazda sedan. Obviously we should have gone left at the split, so we backtracked. After a few minutes on the right road we came to a small river running across in front of us. This was not the right road either and we did some more backtracking. We decided to check out one of the spots we passed on the way in only to find that every site was taken. It was now 12:45am. We made a new plan to crash in the car on the side of the road, wake up early, head back in town and ask a local for directions to the trailhead of Mt. Sneffels.
Clint woke up early to follow through with the plan while I slept like a baby in the passenger seat. Apparently it was impossible to get the trailhead without a 4 wheel drive vehicle. We had to abort the Mt. Sneffels mission and continue on. But first, we stopped for pictures.
Next stop, muffins and coffee.