Category: Uncategorized (Page 1 of 4)

Five Natural Attractions in the Dominican Republic

Punta Cana seems to be where lots of people end up when they visit the Dominican Republic. After living in the DR for a couple months, I came to realize that this city is more like a theme park than a real part of the country. So, whether or not you are staying in Punta Cana for your tropical get-away, please be sure to consider these amazing natural attractions in the Dominican Republic.

Cueva Fun Fun

natural attractions in the Dominican Republic

The exit of Cueva Fun Fun (c) ABR 2016

Ok, Cueva Fun Fun is an activity that you can do from Punta Cana, but it isn’t in Punta Cana. The only way to visit this cavern is via a guided trip. But that’s fine because it takes a horse ride, a hike, and a rappel to get into the cave. That’s just the beginning of the adventure, because once you are down there you also have to wade through cold, subterranean water. Whether you are looking for an adventure, or you want to know more about the many jewels that the Dominican Republic has to offer, Cueva Fun Fun is a great place to start.

I have seen some seriously amazing caves in the Caribbean (Haiti, Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico), and this was one of the coolest. They will pick you up from Punta Cana, so its a great trip for people staying in the Dominican Republic’s biggest tourism hub. That being said,  this trip is best suited for people that are comfortable with horses, heights, and swimming in the dark.

Pico Duarte

natural attractions in the Dominican Republic

A view from the side of Pico Duarte (c) ABR 2016

I have an entire series about my experience attempting the summit of the Dominican Republic’s highest mountain, so be sure to read about the whole adventure. Pico Duarte is a Caribbean place that’s unlike anything you have ever seen. The base of the mountain is draped in those tropical forests that we’ve all come to expect from the islands of the Caribbean.

As you struggle your way up the steep trail, you will make your way into a deciduous forest type that seems so ubiquitous to higher regions. The transition between the two is unbelievably beautiful, and the vistas from Pico Duarte are jaw-dropping. If you love hiking, Pico Duarte might be your favorite of the natural attractions in the Dominican Republic. You can even make the trip a bit cheaper by carefully driving to the base and hiring a local guide from one of the small towns at the base.

Bayahibe and Soana Island

natural attractions in the Dominican Republic

The beautiful waters of Soana Island (c) ABR 2016

Bayahibe, the tiny town near the larger village of Dominicus, is my favorite town on the whole island. It is small, safe, and so so beautiful.  I loved the peaceful atmosphere and amazingly fresh foods of this small town. Bayahibe is also home to a very cool non-profit called FUNDAMAR which works with local people to study and protect the marine mammals. Their hotel association is active in its efforts to make this area an ecotourism and sustainable tourism hub. In terms of activities, there is no end to the things you can do.

A day trip to Soana island will lead you to shallow waters with brilliant orange starfish, and a small island with a colorful village and grassroots effort to protect nesting marine turtles. There is also Padre Nuestro and the Parque Nacional de Este where you can explore some caves and even swim in one (although the trail markers in Parque Nacional de Este are non-existent, so be careful). Bayahibe is a haven for sustainable travelers and lovers of the outdoors.

Samana and Los Haitises National Park

natural attractions in the Dominican Republic

Samana Village and the surrounding forest (c) ABR 2016

Samana is the village to visit if you want to go whale watching, although this is changing. Even if you get to the Dominican Republic after whale watching activities move closer to Punta Cana, this town and the peninsula for which it is named is a must-visit. The village itself is quite lovely, and a long bridge out into the ocean. There are, however, lots of tourist hawkers here, so it can be a bit chaotic.

El Salto de Limon is nearby, and while it is threatened by climate change, this waterfall is too beautiful to miss. Besides whales, beaches, and beautiful towns, Samana is an access point for the beautiful Los Haitises National Park. Here in the otherworldy karst landscape, you can explore caves, grand mangrove forests and more with the help of a guide. There is really no end to the natural attractions in Dominican Republic’s northern peninsula.

27 Charcos

natural attractions in the Dominican Republic

A picture from Dominican Republic Has It All (click the image to visit their website!) because I didn’t have a waterproof camera. :/

I went to the 27 Charcos without really knowing what it was, although I knew there were waterfalls involved and my friends assured me that it was very enjoyable. It turned out to be one of the highlights of my time in the Dominican Republic. I do wish I had known a bit more about what this was before I went. The 27 Charcos tour will take you down a beautiful gorge with bright blue water and a string of waterfalls that you jump and slide down.

This definitely is not a tour for people with a fear of heights or water. Bring shoes that you are comfortable hiking in and swimming in. Our guide rushed us through the tour, unfortunately, and I would suggest that you take your time on the way down. Also, bring a waterproof camera or rent one, because this place is extremely beautiful, and I have never seen another place quite like it.

If you are planning a trip to the Dominican Republic (or are just interested in learning more about the country) be sure to look through our country guide!

Chasing Waterfalls in Ithaca, New York

I was recently sent to the small, idyllic town of Ithaca, New York for work. Before I left, I didn’t know anything much about this small community, except that it was home to Cornell University. Scanning some maps, I figured it looked like a nice place to hike in the early morning before work. So I hoped to balance the stress of our upcoming report with some fresh, outdoor air. Turns out, there are also many waterfalls in Ithaca, and it has some of the most amazing cascades that I have seen.

waterfalls in ithaca

Buttermilk Falls State Park (c) ABR 2018

Getting There

There are two ways to get to Ithaca, by car or by plane… sometimes a mix of both is necessary.

For me, traveling to Ithaca was something of an adventure. Ithaca is sort of in the middle of New York state, at the tip of a finger lake. The airport there is tiny, basically consisting of one large room where you can pick up rental cars, check in for flights, go through security, and wait at your gate. The planes that fly there are fittingly small, and the number of flights to the area is limited.

So, when my flight from Philadelphia to Ithaca got cancelled in the afternoon, I waited on stand-by for the night flight. Then I had to spend the night in Philly so that I could be squeezed onto another plane in the morning. Experienced travelers opted for a rental car as soon as they heard that the flight had been cancelled. They made the drive out there in the time that I was waiting to see if I would fit onto the night flight.

waterfalls in ithaca

Downtown Ithaca (c) ABR 2018

Around Town

Despite my exhaustion upon arrival, Ithaca won my heart right away. Perched on the edge of the Cayuga finger lake, and surrounded by wooded hills, the place has a peaceful air. Many of the houses are of the beautiful Victorian style (although there are actually a lot of different styles- check out this site for more info if you are interested), and coming from cookie-cutter Phoenix, I always appreciate the unique style and character of homes like these. I was lucky enough to stay in one myself, a lovely little Airbnb just a ten minute walk from Ithaca’s pint-sized downtown.

There, I found all sorts of delicious restaurants and unique shops. Most importantly, there was a very good NY bagel shop in the area, which sated my addiction for tasty bagels. There are also a huge variety of places that will help out your lazy side by delivering straight to your accommodations. And if you are in Ithaca over the weekend, a stop by their beautiful farmer’s market in the morning is a must. They had a lovely, wooden structure built for the weekly event right on the lake edge. I’ve never seen a more beautiful farmer’s market myself, and the food there was exceptionally fresh and tasty.

waterfalls in ithaca

Tasty waffle from the farmer’s market (c) ABR 2018

Waterfall Heaven

So, what about waterfalls! I came here for waterfalls!

Ok, yes, while I would be remiss to let you know how cute Ithaca is, it is time to talk about waterfalls. Ithaca has a lot of them. If you are in town, there are some nice walks near campus that will take you along gorges and waterways with falls. These landscapes have an interesting mix of wildness and the manicured, human touch. But I would like to focus on three state parks close to town, where I saw my favorite waterfalls and do some nice hiking.

Check the NY State Park website to see if you will need to pay a fee or not for any park, and to make sure that the trails you want to explore are open. These things vary throughout the year. Now, without further adieu, waterfalls in Ithaca…

Buttermilk Falls State Park

waterfalls in ithaca

Buttermilk Falls (c) ABR 2018

Buttermilk Falls State Park is the closest of the three parks to Ithaca, and the waterfall for which the park is named is visible from the highway.

If you are looking for a relaxing experience, even a picnic or moment of quiet contemplation, Buttermilk Falls is a great place. You can roll up, get out, and enjoy an amazing view. This waterfall is impressively tall and its stoney backdrop is made up of layers upon layers of stone, which inspired its name.

waterfalls in ithaca

Beautiful gorge in Buttermilk Falls State Park (c) ABR 2018

If you are like me and want to get a bit of hiking in, this is a great park to be. I took the Gorge Trail up to Treman lake, where I looped around the water’s edge and then followed the Gorge Trail back to my car (almost 5 miles of hiking). I had initially planned on walking the Rim Trail on the way back to the parking lot, but I really fell in love with the Gorge Trail. There are smaller waterfalls all the way up to where it crosses the highway and becomes Bear Trail. The track follows the edge of the stream that flows down from the lake, cutting its way through the many layers of rock that will surround you on all sides.

Taughannock Falls State Park

waterfalls in ithaca

That waterfall I always forget how to spell, but blows you away when you see it (c) ABR 2018

If there is one park that you see while you are in Ithaca, this is the one! Taughannock Falls is an impressive waterfall that plunges off of a huge, stone cliff into a misty basin. This is a popular spot on the weekend, and for good reason.

It’s about a one mile hike (two miles there and back) on a flat, wide trail from the trailhead to the falls. This meanders along the side of a shallow stream, through a deep, tree-lined gorge. If you go in the morning, during the week, this is a perfect place for a peaceful walk. But if it’s a weekend outing, I think this would be a great park for the whole family (as long as everyone is safe near the water and obeys all park warning signs).

waterfalls in ithaca

(c) ABR 2018

For those looking for a more strenuous hike, the Rim Trail will take up from the parking lot to the top of the gorge. Alternatively, if you want to see the falls but can’t make the hike, there is a beautiful overlook with a lovely visitor center that you can drive to and enjoy the falls from above. When your waterfall-filled morning is over, you can then go enjoy the lake, which is accessible from the park.

Robert Treman State Park

waterfalls in ithaca

This waterfall was taunting me with the awesomeness of the gorge trail which was closed when I was there (c) ABR 2018

Robert Treman State Park was my last stop on my trip, because I really wasn’t expecting all that much from this park. I was in for a big surprise though, because I left thinking that this may have been my favorite of the three, and was definitely the best hike of the week.

There were two main trails that leave from the Lower Park Entrance, the Rim and Gorge Trail. I was hoping to make a loop out of both of them, but sadly, the Gorge Trail was closed when I visited (I am guessing this was due to the time that I visited, right after winter). I took the Rim Trail up to Lucifer Falls and the cliff staircase. On the way there, the track took me up the rim, through a lush forest with a floor that was home to little orange salamanders that resorted to being as still as they could when I came near. When the trail dropped back down to the stream-level, it twisted its way through flower-carpeted stands of trees, before climbing up the cliffs for an exhausted view of the falls.

Alone in the park, in the fresh air, I couldn’t imagine a more beautiful place. In some ways, it doesn’t seem possible that this park could share a state with NYC. Looking down, I couldn’t help but feel sad that the Gorge Trail was off limits while I was there. I could see the trail from the rim and its was absolutely beautiful!

Whatever else you do western New York State, be it work like me, school, or just exploring, I hope that you take the time for chasing waterfalls in Ithaca.

waterfalls in ithaca

waterfalls in ithaca

Everglades Hiking: Mosquitoes, Birds, and Biodiversity

Everglades National Park is one of the crown jewels of the American national park system, and Florida’s only UNESCO world heritage site. It is best known among outdoorsy folk for the water trails that facilitate long canoe and kayaking trips, but it has plenty to offer the hikers among us as well. I spent some time in the Everglades exploring by car and foot, so I will provide a quick guide on several short Everglades hiking trails (and Big Cypress hiking too!).

everglades hiking

The grasslands that make up most of the Everglades (c) ABR 2016

A SHORT HISTORY OF THE EVERGLADES

The Everglades is the watery heart of Florida; it is home to a huge variety of native flora and fauna, and its water ways have served as a byways for humans since their arrival in this part of the world.

The growth of the European colonies in the “New World” and the eventual rise of the United States took its toll on this spectacular landscape, however, and by 1923 people started calling for its protection. A man named Ernest F. Coe headed this charge, in spite of his background as a land developer. He envisioned a park of 2 million acres, including what we now know as Big Cypress. Although the Great Depression made it difficult for Coe’s dream to come true, in 1934 the Everglades National Park was declared at 1.3 million acres.

everglades hiking

(c) ABR 2016

Interestingly, much of the land that got left out of the original park has since been protected in other forms, including Big Cypress National Preserve and Biscayne National Park.

EVERGLADES HIKING

SOUTHERN TRAILS

Most of the trails that I am going to discuss here are along the main road in the park, which runs from the Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center to the Flamingo Visitor Center. Shark Valley is the alternate entrance and requires an entrance fee as well as money for a tram ride. General entrance into the park is $25.00 per vehicle.

everglades hiking

The marsh and the ocean meet (c) ABR 2016

If you start by heading down to Flamingo, there are several trails that follow the coast. The Coastal Prairie Trail heads west from the visitor center to Clubhouse Beach, where camping is allowed. As with all the trails in the Everglades, this is a flat, out and back walk that is 11.2 miles round trip. The Christian Point Trail is a shorter walk to the ocean, at only 4.2 miles roundtrip, but it is one of the more challenging trails in the area.

Snake Bight Trail and Rowby Bend Trail are near Flamingo as well, but I gave up on walking either due to the inordinate amount of mosquitoes that were swarming me every time I stepped out of my vehicle.

SHORT MIDDLE TRAILS

There are three very short, but beautiful walks in the middle section of the main park road. These include Mahagony Hammock, Pa-hay-okee Outlook, and Pinelands. Of these, my favorite is Mahagony Hammock, because it is the best place to learn about the diversity of landscape in the Everglades. Before coming, I really imagined that this place was just a giant marsh, but driving through and hiking for the day taught me the truth. The short walk out to Mahagony Hammock (0.4 miles) takes you out through grasslands that look to stretch on infinitely, to an island of drier forest, which is called a “hammock.” There is something very special about trekking through an open ocean of grass to take refuge in a forest island. A spot of green in an expense of yellow.

everglades hiking

Mahagony Hammock’s mote, which separates the hammock forest from the grasslands (c) ABR 2016

Pay-hay-okee is similarly located in a hammock, although much larger, and there are many platforms from which to observe the landscape and its unique bird species. Pinelands isn’t quite as diverse, but this 0.4 mile walk through the forest introduces the pineland ecosystem. There is also a longer trail in this area called the Long Pine Tree Trail, which is 7 miles long in one direction, and connects to 22 miles of trail. I did not do this particular Everglades hiking trail, however.

everglades hiking

The drier hammock forest (c) ABR 2016

ERNEST F. COE HIKING

The Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center is right near the entrance, and it is one of the more busy hiking areas in the park due to the ease of access and exceptional biodiversity here. In fact, they provide tarps so that you can keep the vultures from tearing up your car, and I saw my first wild alligators just a few feet down the trail.

everglades hiking

Lily pads in a wetland (c) ABR 2016

This area feels very garden-like, or it did to me. There were huge, glassy ponds complete with lily pads, and open skies. With lots of tall grass, and wooden walkways give you great views of the water and any of the animals that might be calling it home when you visit.

There are also some short paths through some more tropical forest here. Some of the biggest trees that I saw in the park were here and I really enjoyed the shade after exploring in the open and observing alligators for a while.

BIG CYPRESS HIKING

The Florida National Scenic trail passes through Big Cypress and is easily accessible from the road via the Oasis Visitor Center. I was not properly equipped for the amount of mud on the trail when I visited, but for drier times of the year, or people with more waterproof equipment, this would be a great trail to turn into a shorter, out-and-back journey.

everglades hiking

Cypress trees (c) ABR 2016

For those of you in my boat, check out Kirby Storter Roadside Park, where you can take a short walk through the Cypress swamps. This was one of my favorite spots in Florida, due to the fact that I absolutely love Cypress trees. I think they are otherworldly and they have always characterized what I imagined the Everglades to be.

SAFETY TIPS

(1) Alligators! Were really not as much of a problem as I thought they would be. I actually never saw one on the trail, but if you do see one, keep your distance. Also, just pay attention and keep your wits about you when you are near the water while on the Everglades hiking trails.

(2) Mosquitos are more of a discomfort than a danger if they aren’t carrying disease, but the odds of disease are getting worse and worse, so its best to avoid them. In my experience, bug spray is absolutely NOT enough in this area. If you are going to be hiking in a mosquito-infested area, you will need some special clothing to keep them off of you.

everglades hiking

Pineland (c) ABR 2016

(3) Hiking solo is one of my favorite things, but it definitely has its particular risks. As with any solo hiking venture, let people know where you are going and when you will be back. Check in with the park rangers to get updates on the trail and let them know where you are off to.

(4) Finally, remember, you are always responsible for yourself on the trail. Your safety is up to you. Conditions change day to day and everyone has different hiking abilities. You need to take all of that into account before you leave, and to insure that you have all the equipment, water, and food you will need.

If you want to know more details about these trails, Florida Hikes! is a great resource for individual trails, safety and more. And if you are in need of more Florida travel inspiration, be sure to read through our Guide to Florida.

everglades hiking

everglades hiking

Respectful Travel In the United States

The Importance of Respectful Travel

In January 2018, an American Youtube creator by the name of Logan Paul made headlines for his video showcasing the body of a Japanese suicide victim. The existence of the video was insensitive in every sense of the word. Its use of tragedy as click bait was more than reprehensible. However, it came to light shortly after that this video was only a part of Logan’s profane escapades during his time in Japan. His actions on the street and even in places of worship were annoying at best, and blatantly disrespectful at worst. Nightborn felt for every Japanese person that he harassed, embarrassed, and annoyed. We also hate to think of what people like him do to the reputation of other travelers or tourists from their country. Its time to start talking about respectful travel and how to do it.

respectful travel

(c) Max Pixel

“Tourist” has become kind of an unwanted label, hasn’t it? It usually slips off the tongues of locals with bitterness and a roll of the eyes. But why? Sometimes it’s the Logan Pauls of the world – who seem to think that other cultures are a joke. But mostly, it’s everyday folks who just don’t take the time to do a little learning before they travel.

So here’s our challenge to you: take the time. Be informed. Be BETTER.

Be a good steward of your nationality and change the locals opinions of what a “tourist” can be.

We’ll even help you get started! For the benefit of anyone thinking of visiting the US, we wanted to share a quick and dirty guide to respectful behavior for travelers to the United States.

We Love Our Lines

In some places, a line is more of a suggestion than a rule, but this is absolutely not true in the United States. If people are waiting in line, it is considered extremely rude to cut your way to the front… or really anywhere that isn’t the back. Even if someone from your party is waiting further up, people will give you dirty looks for cutting ahead. Being pushy in line is even worse. The best line etiquette is to patiently join at the back of the line, and avoid touching anyone around you that you don’t know.

respectful travel

Personal Bubbles

We like our personal space. Unless you are on a crowded train or elevator, it is not appropriate to bump shoulders with people you don’t know. When speaking with Americans, it is also good to keep at least a couple feet between you. When it comes to greetings and goodbyes, we also aren’t big on kissing or hugging unless you are already good friends. Handshakes are probably the safest way to go if you feel that you must give a physical greeting to a stranger.

respectful travel

The Bubble! (c) Wikimedia Commons

Saying Hello

We grew up in Arizona, and it is pretty traditional to be friendly to people you meet on the street, particularly in residential areas and while hiking. If there aren’t tons of people around, it’s polite to say good morning or hello. You don’t need to attempt a conversation (especially if they’re in a rush), but acknowledging the other person goes a long way. This also goes when you are at the cash register. It’s polite to ask the person working how they are and maybe engage in small talk as long as you don’t hold up the line. As far as I know, this is common throughout the south and midwest, and probably rural areas of the Northern US as well. But you  might  not find this in a BIG city like New York.

respectful travel

Wave hello! (c) Wikimedia Commons

Time Is Money!

Lots of Americans, particularly urban ones, are very focused on being efficient with their time. So, if you are ordering food somewhere, or otherwise selecting a service, but have no idea what you want, it is polite to let the person behind you order first, if they know what they want. Likewise, if you are in line at the grocery store and have a cart full of food for your road trip, while the person behind you has a loaf of bread and some peanut butter, they would be extremely grateful if you let them go in front of you. Although, if you don’t do these things, you won’t be seen as impolite, as long as you respected the line.

respectful travel

(c) Wikimedia Commons

Driving Rules

Roadtrips are one of our favorites, and respectful travel is just as important on the road as anywhere else. Just like the line situation, driving rules in the US are not suggestions. If there is a stop sign, you must come to a complete stop. If there is a red arrow for a turn, you may not go until a green arrow is on. Red lights cannot be run, even though there’s no one there and it’s the middle of the night. A few rogues will break these rules, but Americans expect you to respect the laws of the road.

respectful travel

(c) Wikimedia Commons

We Aren’t All Loud and You Don’t Have to Be Either

I know I could fill a book with these things, but this will be my last point. I want to cover this because the “loud American” is such a stereotype elsewhere. As with probably anywhere, you should really gauge your volume based on the people around you. If you are in a bar, and everyone is loud, feel free to be loud. But if you are at a nice restaurant, hiking, shopping, at the movies (!!!!), it’s really more polite to keep your volume down. No one anywhere likes it when other people ruin their peaceful day by being obnoxious.

respectful travel

(c) Wikimedia Commons

These guidelines are not asking you to stop being yourself, we’re just asking you to be respectful. And that goes for wherever you travel, not just the U.S. Respectful travel can help us all build a better reputation for our favorite pastime.

If you’d like to learn more about travel in the US, be sure to visit our Guide to the United States.

respectful travel

respectful travel

Six Reasons to Travel in 2018

6 Reasons To Travel in 2018

2018 is upon us! It is time to break out our New Years resolutions, and we here at Nightborn Travel want to give you some great reasons to travel this coming year. Having travel goals is not only fun, but there is plenty to learn from exploring as well.

(1) Travel keeps me interested and curious. When I say travel, I just mean the act of exploring a new place, be that across the world or a restaurant you haven’t tried in your home town. Either way, it is refreshing to visit somewhere new, and it’s something hardwired into us humans. In short, exploring new places is good for your mind and body.

(2) Travel makes you a better person. Maybe a bold claim, but I think it’s true. When you leave the comfort of your warm and cozy home to travel (even if it’s just outside of your own city), you’re opening yourself up to different foods, cultures and histories. This is where being a responsible traveler becomes really important. Respect the places that you visit, treat the people that you meet well and accept your similarities and differences. Traveling is such a privilege, and if you treat each trip as such, I think you’ll have a great time.

(3) Travel helps with my anxiety (but not the way you might think). Some bloggers claim that traveling made their anxiety go away, but that is not true for me. It does, however, give me a reason to be excited about each new day. Experiencing new things is a great reason to push through hard times for me. Travel may be a good motivation for you too, in whatever shape exploring may take for you.

Things Travel Taught Us in 2017

(1) Do as much as you can, because you will probably regret the chances you didn’t take. One of my biggest travel regrets in 2017 is that I canceled my side-trip to the Chatham Islands of New Zealand. I was suffering bad anxiety at the time, and almost broke my hand. I was happy to rest at the time, but looking back, I always wish I had gone through with my full plan despite my worries.

reasons to travel

Pandora at night (c) ABR 2017

(2) Plan ahead! I know some people love to be spontaneous, and I am definitely not telling you to give that up, if that’s how you are. Even so, researching a location ahead of time will help you avoid missing stuff that you would have really loved to see. This is something that I am slowly getting better at, because I always feel sad when I am visiting somewhere and I realize I don’t have time to visit all the places I learn about as I travel.

reasons to travel

Lee’s Ferry (c) ABR

(3) You are capable of so much more than you think. I’ve planned international trips. I’ve driven on the left side of the road. I’ve successfully navigated through cities I’ve never been to before. I’ve gotten my butt on a plane, time after time, even though I squeeze my eyes shut and hold my breath through every take-off. Travel isn’t always easy (especially getting to your destination), but it’s worth every beautiful second. We believe in you, reader, and we’ve got your back.

 

Travel Goals in 2018

Whether your goal is to see all 417 national park units in the US, or to just visit one new restaurant in your hometown this year, we would ask that you share a singular travel goal with us for this 2018.

Travel responsibly, putting the environment and the people of the places you visit first.

reasons to travel

Fossil Creek (c) ABR 2017

If you have any questions on how to do that, we will be here, providing guides and discussions about seeing the world and leaving no trace.

Thanks for reading! -Katie and Aireona

reasons to travel

reasons to travel

Happy Blogiversary to Me: Celebrating a Year with Nightborn Travel

In case you couldn’t tell, you know, from the title, it’s my first blogiversary with Nightborn Travel!

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From our trip to Bisbee. Is it a mine cart? Is it a toilet? NO – IT’S TOILET CART!

Instead of receiving gifts on this most special of occasions, I thought I would give a gift to YOU, dear readers, by sharing some of my learnings over the past year.

1) Open yourself up to traveling more.

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GIVE THE GRAND CANYON A HUG. (Safely.)

But you may say, Katie, I’m afraid of flying (well, I kind of am, too) or Katie, traveling costs too much money and even Katie, I don’t have anyone to travel with (I’ll address this in point number two).

Well, what you need to do, my friend, is broaden your definition of “travel”, I know I have. Traveling doesn’t always mean jet-setting across the globe, it doesn’t always have to be big. If you check out some of my other posts, you’ll see that most of them are about exploring my home state of Arizona and how I love every minute of it.

In fact, some of my favorite trips have been just a couple hours outside of my city.

Which brings me to my next nugget of wisdom.

2) Don’t feel weird about solo travel.

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When you travel solo, you can wear whatever hat you wanna wear.

 

I think we’re finally starting to shake off the stigma that doing activities by yourself like going out for a meal, seeing a movie and more recently, traveling, doesn’t make you a loner or anti-social, etc., etc.

Which is great, because it DOESN’T. Every person has a different idea of what makes them happy, especially when it comes to travel. And I don’t know about you, but as much as I enjoy company, I also enjoy me-time.

There are definitely benefits to solo travel too, like choosing what you want to do, when you want to do it. Super beneficial for someone like me who’s going to be stopping every five seconds to take a photo of something. Plus, it pushes you out of your comfort zone – I know I stop and chat with people a lot more when I’m traveling alone, something that I do less of when I’m with a group.

And guess what, solo travelers? People are doing it more, particularly millennial women, inspiring not only more women to travel but for travel-related businesses to think of safer ways for women to travel. A total win!

I mean, there’s still a lot of things that are hard to do alone, like an escape room or a three-legged race so keep those friends around because…

3) A good travel buddy makes any trip worth taking.

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Friends that cave together, stay together.

I’m gonna get sappy(ish), but you’ve already come this far so you might as well see it the whole way through.

I’ll spare you the whole “it’s not the destination, it’s the journey” cliche, but if you’re traveling somewhere with folks, isn’t half the fun the people you’re with? Like when I think back to some of my trips with my Nightborn Travel pal, Aireona, a lot of my favorite memories are the goofy things that happened or that we said or did.

And while we’re just going full speed down that sappy road, I’m going to have to thank Aireona for inviting me on this blogging adventure! Without her, I wouldn’t even HAVE  a blogiversary to celebrate. Plus, she is an endless supply of travel wisdom and inspiration and I am SO glad to to call her one of my travel buddies.

So thanks for sticking with me for a year, reader dears. I hope you stay stuck, because I have so much more to share!

Travelers gonna travel,
Katie

Do’s and Don’ts for Travelers to Japan

How to Respectfully Experience Japanese Shrines and Temples

Nikko shrine (c) RDB 2017

  1. There are wells (purification fountains) on the way into shrines and temples, and if you rinse your hands, try to avoid touching the ladle anywhere but the handle, and pour used water into the gutter. You can also pour some water into your hand to rinse your mouth (don’t drink).
  2. If you want to worship at a Shinto shrine, when you get to the offering hall toss some coinage into the offering box. If there is a bell, ring it, bow two times, clap your hands twice, and then bow one more time.
  3. Don’t eat or drink anything other than water in the shrine or temple.
  4. Be quiet and respectful; these are holy places.

Being Polite In While Traveling by Train in Japan

The shinkansen (c) ABR 2015

  1. When waiting to get on the train, pay attention to the lines painted on the sidewalk, and be sure to stand in line.
  2. Don’t talk on your phone; if chatting with a pal, try to be quiet.
  3. If it gets crowded, take your bag off and hold it in front.
  4. If you have an assigned seat, make sure that is where you sit.
  5. Don’t be pushy, and make sure that you leave room for other people to get on and off the train.

How to Avoid Annoying Japanese People

Crowds in Japan (c) RDB 2017

  1. Read ALL the signs, especially when you are in a shrine or temple. Many will tell you where you can and cannot go, and what you need to do while in any area (e.g. take off your shoes, etc).
  2. Stand in line. This goes for lots of different places that you might not expect depending on where you are from. We even stood in line while hiking, and while that ad hoc happens in the US sometimes, it was not ok to move up in the line in Japan.
  3. Learn and use please (“sumimasen,” which really means excuse me) and thank you (“arigato”) in Japanese. When you are in a restaurant, it is not impolite to hail your waiter by saying “sumimasen.”
  4. Be quiet if you are in an Airbnb, because people live very close to one another, and the Japanese work day/week is very long.
  5. Be quiet and respectful in Onsens and follow all rules while bathing.
  6. Watch other people, and take note of their behavior. This can serve as your guide for how to act when you are uncertain.

Other Japanese Customs You Might Want to Know About (But Which Visitors Aren’t Expected to Understand)

Tokyo (c) RDB 2017

  1. Bowing. In Japan, there’s a complexity to bowing in which people of different standings bow to different depths. Bowing can also be casual or formal. Luckily, visitors aren’t expected to know how this all works.
  2. Gift-giving is another important but complicated aspect of Japanese culture. Generally speaking, people don’t open their gifts in front of the gift-giver, and whenever you receive a gift, you are supposed to return the favor. Again, however, travelers aren’t expected to do this all properly.

How To Handle A Migraine While Flying

(Complete with funny stock photos to help us cope, cause migraines suck.)

I’ve suffered from migraines since sixth grade (that day has left quite an impression on my memory), and since then, getting a migraine while flying somewhere has been my nightmare. While traveling home from a work-related trip to NYC recently, my nightmare came true, and unfortunately, all the online resources that I could find were on how to prevent migraines while traveling, rather than what to do when it happens!

Migraines suck!

So, I wanted to put together a resource for other travelers with this problem, just in case any of you too find it too late to prevent this debilitating event on a travel day. Some of this comes from my own experience with this problem, but some of these tips also come from responses that I got when I was desperately looking for advice and support while I tried to figure out how to get home despite the migraine that hit me.

Going for a walk helps me alot.

First off, do what you need to do to treat your migraine. The number one thing is to be sure you have whatever meds work for you, be that prescription or over-the-counter. For me, what has been helpful has been taking Excedrin right away, then chugging a ton of water, eating some protein immediately, and then going against all advice and NOT laying down in the dark. Instead, keeping myself extremely hydrated, I put on my sunglasses and tried to go for a walk. I know that sounds super weird, and I doubt it will work for everyone (or anyone else?), but it has been extremely helpful for me to experiment with combinations of other people’s strategies in order to find something that works. I’ve listed more ideas at the end of this post, coming from people’s suggestions from the group that supported me through this experience. You can give these a try.

Follow this birb’s example and HYDRATE!

Second, decide if you should fly or not. InternationalCaty reminded me that flying can make headaches (and thus, probably migraines as well) worse, and that it was worth asking the airline if there was a chance to move my flight to the next day. While I didn’t end up doing this, I think this is great to keep in mind. You may want to keep a little extra money in your budget for a last-minute rest day near the airport if it will give you some peace of mind. Furthermore, on this note of deciding whether you should wait a day to fly if a migraine hits you, some former/current flight attendants mentioned that if you look too sick to fly, you may be kicked off the plane. This makes sense, for everyone’s safety.

Eat some protein!

Third, if you do decide to go, or the migraine hits you mid-flight, you should let the flight attendant and the people sitting around you know what is happening. For one, this will let everyone know that you aren’t contagious, and I think it will put you at ease to some extent if things really go downhill, because your row mates will already know what’s up. Furthermore, the flight attendants will appreciate the heads-up and they might also be able to help make you more comfortable.

Some caffeine and sleep can help out.

THINGS FOR MIGRAINE SUFFERERS TO TRAVEL WITH

  • Migraine meds
  • Sleep mask
  • Earplugs or headphones with some calming white noise (I personally love the sound of rain and it really calms me down while blocking out other sounds)
  • WATER! (If you have a reuseable water bottle, you can drink from it before security, dump it out, and then refill on the other side)
  • Protein (I always try to carry protein bars with me, and this is just helpful in general, migraines aside)

Garlic is magic… probably not available in the airport, but… you never know, I guess.

SUGGESTIONS FOR SIDE TREATMENTS FOR MIGRAINES (After you take your meds, or if you are stuck without them) AS SUGGESTED BY SOLO WOMEN TRAVELERS ON FACEBOOK

  • Chug water, eat protein, go for a walk
  • Drink a Coke (the person who told me that this helps her says this HAS to be a real Coke and it cannot be diet), lots of people suggest drinking caffeine in general
  • Drink something with electrolytes
  • Put salt on the palm of your hand, lick off, and drink 12-16 oz of water
  • Head/neck and foot massage
  • Try to meditate or sleep
  • Eat garlic
  • Try sinus/allergy medicine (as long as it doesn’t interact with your other meds or any allergy, etc that you may have)
  • Notes on Accupressure from Jackie Monkiewicz:

    “I primarily use the ones on my temples, the base of the skull, and between the webbing of my thumb & forefinger. Sometimes I’ll supplement with the sinus trigger points, because those can be involved.

    But other migraineurs use other points.

    A trigger point is “active” if it hurts when I squeeze it. Sometimes there’s a little knot of balled angry muscle.

    I actually can’t find these points when I’m not having a migraine.

    The book I first read about them in said to squeeze the absolute shit out of them. That the more it hurt, the more likely it was that they would provide relief. I’m not sure that’s 100% true, but based on trigger point therapies I’ve had for other issues at physical therapy, I can report that generally the therapist who really whales on the trigger points does get the best results.

    The temple points actually make me feel nauseous when I’m really pressing on them in the middle of a migraine.

    The base of the skull ones are hard for me to get, because I have a lot of muscle back there. But I can also feel this huge band of angry muscle bulging across the top of my neck, so I know when they are active.

    Airplane chairs actually provide decent purchase for reaching them, but I’ve also stopped at airport massage places and basically begged them to just please fix my neck.

    And I assume acupuncture on these points would be beneficial, but alas, it’s not practical for air travel.”

    For more info on this: http://www.wikihow.com/Use-Acupressure-Points-for-Migraine-Headaches

Expedition South Island: Day 5: Mishaps and Accomplishments on Stewart Island

Oban (c) ABR 2017

Got an early start this morning so that I could make the two hour drive from Te Anau to Bluff, where I caught the ferry over to Stewart Island. It was nice to drive without traffic for a few hours, but when it is dark on the roads in New Zealand, it is DARK. Just you and 20ft of road, twisting off into the blackness. It was pretty mesmerizing at times, especially when the fog started rolling in.

My little fantail friend (c) ABR 2017

The ferry over to the island was less eventful, because the weather was good and the ride was short. But walking into the small town of Oban (population 400 according to the ferry captain) was interesting. The town is so small, and most of the restaurants are closed for the winter right now, but as with other small islands I have been to, the town hotel kept things lively. It was the only place to stop in for food at this point. I had my first real meal in several days there- sea food chowder and a fruit crumble, because sadly, there were none of the famous oysters available.

The stairs I fell down (not all of them) (c) ABR 2017

Feeling utterly full, I set right out onto the trail. It’s a different kind of hiking here, all through the dense rainforest, and depending on the trail, down one of Oban’s few roads, which are narrow and thus, somewhat uncomfortable to walk on. At one point, a little fan tail started following me down the trail, and he even let me crouch down to get a good look at him. Apparently, however, he draws the line at picture taking, because as soon as my camera was out he flitted off. Only to start following me again when I was walking.

(c) ABR 2017

Unfortunately, besides the birds and forests, another mainstay of the trails near town are stairs, with slippery, wooden frames. I ended up sliding down quite a few of them at one point, and I landed right on my palm. I’m pretty sure I lost my trusty sunglasses at that point too… but it took me hours to notice because the pain in my hand was enough to leave me wondering if I had broken it. There was not much else on my mind when I got back to my feet. Luckily, after about 5 hours, my hand is looking better and has more mobility, so I think I just managed to bruise it badly.

(c) ABR 2017

I took about a 45 minute break at the hostel to cradle my hand and look up things about bruised palms and broken wrists on the internet, and then I decided I couldn’t miss this opportunity to explore Stewart Island anymore. So, with my hand held up for circulation, I set back out, just planning on meandering for a couple of hours until it was a respectable time for dinner. Instead, I ended up hiking ~10km in a race against the trail signage. One part of the trail said 8km, 3hrs, I did it in half the time. My legs weren’t even tired.

In the end, I guess today wasn’t half bad. Sure, I lost my favorite sunglasses, but I am pretty sure my hand isn’t broken, and I’m consistently breaking times on the longer walks here, which feels good.

Wanna know a great place to see before Stewart Is. on an epic NZ roadtip? Day 4!
How about exploring Christchurch before leaving for home? Day 6!

Expedition South Island: Day 4: Fiordlands Blew My Mind

Miles Hiked: ~3
Time Hiking: 1.5hr

I think it’s clear from the little map above, I did a ton of driving today! I had no idea how far Milford Sound was from Te Anau (little planning oversight there), but my goodness, was it worth it.

Mountains above Queenstown (c) ABR 2017

First of all, the drive from Wanaka to Queenstown was a stunning continuation of the mountains that I was exploring in Mt. Aspiring (same colors and character). It was so beautiful with the sunrise, it was honestly a little disappointing to have to be driving. I wanted to stop and take pictures, but it just wasn’t much of a possibility (although I did pull over to snap the one above). My hitch hiker pals told me that Queenstown is a great place to visit, but sadly, I didn’t have time to stop. It did look like a town with a lot to offer though… how could it not with a mountainous backdrop like that!?

(c) ABR 2017

Anyway, Milford Sound is one of those NZ designations that everyone raves about, which, oddly, made me doubt that it could really be that great, ESPECIALLY after what I had already seen in Mt. Cook and Mt. Aspiring. But by all that is good… Fiordlands (the NP that is home to Milford Sound) is one of the most amazing places that I have ever seen. The mountains on the drive in, especially those surrounding the tunnel, are just unlike anything I’ve experienced before. You have forests and grasslands at their base, and then these mountains are just masses of rock. They are so steep that barely anything grows on them, but for mossy-looking plants that just make the whole place seem other-worldly. I honestly can’t rave about that place enough.

The famous Milford Sound (c) ABR 2017

As for Milford Sound itself, I really wanted to hike, so I missed out on the boat ride. It was really crowded down there anyway, and I just wasn’t feeling it with all the buses swarming everywhere. I am sure that those of you who have done it before would say that that was a mistake, but I wouldn’t have wanted to unwittingly miss out out on the hike I ended up doing.

Gertrude Valley. Doesn’t sound like much. Actually, I have no idea why I decided to turn down the short little dirt road that opened in to the parking lot for the trail, but it was an unbelievable experience. First off, note that this is a dangerous trail during avalanche season (which it is not currently), and that I didn’t do the steep part of the trail due to lack of preparation in terms of gear and time constraints. But the trail there took me through some fairy tale forests, and through vast grasslands between the mountains that I loved so much, right to the base of a peak that looked like the mountain above Fairy Pools in Scotland… but if it was on steroids.

If nothing else, this one day made this trip for me. I didn’t know that something this cool existed. I could spend weeks here hiking around.

The day before this I was in Mt. Aspiring, loving the red hills of the Southern Alps.
After hiking in Fiordlands, I was off to Stewart Island in the South.

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