I'm in Joshua Tree for a short visit before heading to Sedona and the Grand Canyon in Arizona. It's a magical place, even more so at sunrise and sunset when brilliant colors linger in the sky, making the landscape with its bizarre plants and ginormous boulders seem even more alien-like.
If you've never been, it's a place you'll want to put on your must-visit list only two hours from Los Angeles. It's popular with rock climbers, but my favorite thing to do here is to hike. There are short treks like the one-mile Hidden Valley loop trail that will bring you through a traquil valley encircled on all sides by towering rock formations, also passing a wide variety of desert plants and Joshua Trees - each one is unique and they all seem to have their own "personalities."
The 3-mile round trip Ryan Mountain trail ascends 1,075 feet in just 1.5 miles, culminating at an elevation of 5,457 feet. At the top you'll enjoy spectacular panoramic views of jumbled rock formations and Joshua Tree forests surrounding the peak through the Queen, Lost Horse and Pleasant Valleys.
49 Palms Oasis is 3-mile roundtrip hike where you'll find towering stands of fan palms at its end. They create a canopy over pools of water that are surrounded by large boulders, providing an especially scenic area for contemplation.
Another one of my favorite spots is the Cholla Cactus Garden. There's a short nature trail that winds through hundreds of different cacti of varying sizes, shapes and colors like the cholla cactus, or Teddy Bear cactus.
At the end of the day, one of the most popular things to do is watch the sunset from Keys View - a crowd gathers here every evening just before dusk. As you drive back to the western entrance of the park near Joshua Tree village, the sky continues to get even more brilliant until the colors finally fade away to reveal millions of stars. If you visit, you might want to check out my article on Trips To Discover for even more things to do here.
Have you ever thought about planning a trip around an Airbnb? Some are so unique, it can be a great way to discover a place you might never have thought about visiting anyway. And, for those who like an adventure, the world's most remote Airbnbs are sure to make for an unforgettable escape.
Check out some of these great options from fantasy-like islands to options in the dramatic Himalayas, the tranquil Faroe Islands and beyond in one of my recent articles for Trips To Discover here. They're all a perfect way to stray off the well beaten tourist path and enjoy something a little different.
Whether you travel overseas frequently, or are getting ready to head out on your first trip, international travel requires a good amount of planning along with an adventurous spirit that’s willing to go with the flow and adapt to unfamiliar conditions. Of course, too many bumps in the road can make things stressful, but these tips will help you avoid those hurdles for easier overseas travel.
Get a credit card with no foreign transaction fees
If you don’t have one already, be sure to get a credit card with no foreign transaction fees as those fees can add up quickly. Many banks will charge you a 1 to 3% foreign transaction fee when you use their cards overseas, and even if you’re earning miles, the cost tends to negate the value. A quick Google search will turn up a number of cards that waive those fees, such as Chase Sapphire Preferred, Bank of America Travel Rewards and Capital One Venture Rewards.
Notify your credit card companies and banks that you’ll be traveling
Be sure to notify all of your credit card companies and banks (at least of those you’ll be using overseas) that you’ll be traveling, or you could end up getting your transaction denied due to suspicious activity. Many banks automatically decline transactions when they take place in a foreign country (sometimes even just another state), if they haven’t been notified ahead of time. Oftentimes you can simply fill out a form online indicating the dates you’ll be gone and where you’re going.
Get some foreign cash and learn the currency conversions
While you don’t want to get a lot of foreign cash before you go, it is a good idea to exchange a small amount just to avoid the stress of looking for an ATM when you first arrive, fatigued and jet lagged. Afterwards, using your debit card to get cash at an ATM is typically the most convenient and the least expensive option.
Once you have a bit of foreign money in hand, get familiar with what it looks like and find out what the rough exchange rate is so that you’re more comfortable with the local currency before you arrive. It can also be helpful to get a smartphone app for real-time conversions.
Pay your bills ahead of time or set up automatic payments
You don’t want to have to worry about paying your bills while you’re on vacation. Try to pay as many as you can ahead of time, and for those you can’t, look into setting up automatic payments. That way you can forget all about them and enjoy a good time without concern over late payments and high interest rates.
Check your passport
While the U.S. will allow you to use your passport up to the date on the inside cover, many countries will deny you entry if it expires in less than six months, as they don’t want you to end up stuck there on an expired passport. You'll also need a blank page available for every country you visit - if you're running low or you run out completely you can't simply add pages, you'll have to pay for a renewal. Double check yours and renew if necessary.
Scan all your important documents
Scan all of your important documents and then email copies to yourself so that you can always access them should the originals get lost. That includes items like your passport, driver’s license, health insurance card and visa.
Proper packing can make traveling a whole lot easier – always think less is more, as lugging around heavy bags will literally drag you down. Research the weather of the area you’re visiting beforehand, and try to choose garments you can layer so that you’ll be prepared for temperature variations. Don’t bring items you’ve never worn – bring things you know you feel comfortable in, including shoes. Depending on your destination, you may want to do a little research on the culture, as for example, in some, women’s shoulders and legs need to remain covered, no matter how hot it might be.
You can make the most out of the space you have by rolling your clothes instead of folding them. You’ll be surprised to find how much room you can save. Make even more good use of space by rolling your underwear and socks and tucking them inside of your shoes or hats. Don’t forget to leave a little extra room for those souvenirs you’re going to want to bring back either. Taking along a laundry bag or even a trash bag for dirty clothes is a good way to keep them separated from the clean ones.
You’ll probably want your camera, memory card, necessary chargers and perhaps other electronic devices too. When you’re traveling overseas, you’re also likely to need a power adaptor in order to keep all of those electronics charged. All over the world, there are different types of electrical wall outlets. Unless you’re visiting a destination that has the same outlet configuration as your home country, you’ll need an adapter. Adapter plugs do not convert electricity, they simply allow your device’s plug to fit into the foreign outlet. Fortunately, they’re cheap and easy to find at online and brick-and-mortar stores.
Contact your cell phone carrier
The majority of the major cell phone carriers offer international roaming plans these days that can save you money on calling as well as data while you’re overseas. Some even provide unlimited global roaming that can really be helpful, as you can use your phone for GPS, and of course, access all of its other features too. Contact your carrier to find out what’s available to you, and be sure to inquire about all possible fees that could be incurred. If it’s too pricey, in many places you can pick up an inexpensive prepaid phone at the airport when you arrive.
I had the privilege of being interviewd on 'The Lisa Show,' a national radio show this week! In it I talk about some of the most unique destinations to travel and some of my favorites, as well as why I think it's a good idea to get out and explore something different.
Check it out: The Lisa Show interview - You'll find it on the January 14 episode - click listen and then forward to 85 minutes in. Can't wait to hear what you think!
UPDATED: I had quite a few people tell me they couldn't figure out how to get to this so here are more detailed instructions:
1. Click here. The page below will show up. Click LISTEN next to the January 14 episode.
2. You should see the image to the left after clicking on LISTEN. Click on the arrow and the rectangle grey box will appear to the right like the second image shows. If you click in the box you can keep clicking until it gets to the 85 minute point where the interview is.
Hope that helps! Looking forward to your comments!
In early December I wrote about my upcoming travels in 2020. As it always seems to happen, I managed to squeeze in another trip. No matter how many times I say I'm going to slow down "next year," my passion for discovering new places, cultures and wildlife gets in the way. A friend and I always talk about our fantasy of having a teleporter, we refer to it as a wish for a "Beam me up, Scotty" kind of thing. Unfortunately, that's unlikely in our lifetimes or or probably at any point in the future, but hey, we can dream. Until then, it's long-haul flights, and I'll be on a very long one in early March as I travel to Indonesia.
I'd been binge watching a lot of documentaries on wildlife and natural wonders around the world, and several featured various islands of Indonesia. I knew I'd have to visit sometime in the near future - I was especially intrigued about Borneo as I'd always wanted to see orangutans in the wild. Pygmy elephants and proboscis monkeys are there too!
I searched through flights to get an idea of how much it would cost to get there, and was surprised to find that airfare was quite a bit less than flying to Europe. Of course, it's a very long journey - 21 hours, and that was the least amount of time. Many flights, with various connections, were 33 hours or more. So, perhaps saved for another year when my schedule was more open. Or so I thought. The next morning I received a message out of the blue - "Do you happen to be going to Indonesia anytime soon?" it read. Bizarre coincidence? Long story short, I was invited by Nihi Sumba Resort, named the best hotel in the world (twice) by Travel + Leisure, to stay for four nights and experience what it has to offer.
I believe everything happens for a reason and, there's no way I'd turn that down. I'll land in Bali and spend some time there before and after Nihi. While Borneo will have to be saved for another year, perhaps I'll go as part of my trip to visit New Zealand again in 2021, I'm pretty excited about this trip. 21+ hours? Hopefully I'll sleep through at least a good portion of that, I have a feeling it will be worth it.
Leaving in early March, and I can't wait. I'll be sure to tell you all about it and post the article I'll be writing after it's published. In the meantime, if you're considering an exotic trip this year, you might want to think about Indonesia too. Why?
This world has so much to offer, it may be impossible to ever slow down!
Not surprisingly, the most frequent question I'm asked is "What's your favorite destination?" It might seem like an easy question to answer, but that's far from the reality. There are so many destinations around the world - I love mountains, beaches, wildlife, warm weather, cold weather, meeting new people. I've traveled to Newfoundland and Iceland many times. I have family in Ireland and have been visiting since 2001 - I think I'm on my 10th or 11th trip, I've lost count. Those countries are all on the top of my list.
Staying in the heart of the Amazon in beautiful Ecuador, one of the most diverse and spectacular countries was an experience of a lifetime - listening to the howls of the monkeys through the rainforest, seeing the red eyes of the caimans in the river after dark, the toucans perched in the trees and the hundreds of parrots soaring through the skies, it was something I never thought I'd see outside of a TV screen.
Greece was incredible, the history, the people, the food, the scenery!
And, traveling to Croatia this year I fell hard for that country too - I'm returning to experience more of some of my favorite spots there in 2020 - there's so much I have to say about that spectacular country, it deserves a post of it's own...on the list!
Of course, I've been mostly living in Baja, Mexico for the last 18 months or so - the Wild West feel, the stunning beaches and crystal-clear blue waters for snorkeling that are like swimming in an aquarium, the Mexican people and the mouthwatering cuisine, make it one of my favorite places too. And, the whales...humpbacks and gray whales come so close you can almost pet them - in some places, you can!
Truly, it's an impossible question to answer. But, after visiting New Zealand, I have to admit, that one is going to be hard to beat. Not that I have to choose just one, of course. When I returned from my trip, I endured some of the worst jet lag ever... but I also felt more calm and relaxed than I had in a very long time. There was just something magical about this place that I tried to boil down to a list of reasons, but to really understand it, you'll need to visit yourself. Trust me when I say, the long flight and jet lag is worth it.
I'm going back in March of 2021 - in one of my latest articles for Trips To Discover I reveal just some of the reasons why: !3 Reasons New Zealand is the Best Country to Visit
Where will you go in 2020?
2019 was quite the year for travel - and, I've been so busy with client work I've barely had time to breathe between working and traveling. It's time to slow down the pace a bit, but I have got some very exciting adventures coming up in 2020.
I'll be traveling to Ireland like I do most years, visiting in late April/early May, a great time to be there with all the green and wildflowers, but far fewer tourists than what the summer springs. From there, I'll fly to Porto, Portugal for a few days and then drive north to Asturias, Spain. That region is rarely visited by American tourists, and it happens to be one of the last places that Anthony Bourdain featured on Parts Unknown before passing in June of 2018. Mountains, ocean, amazing food... there are many reasons I've decided to visit, some of which I've outlined in this article for Trips To Discover: Top 9 Reasons to Visit Asturias, Spain.
In July, I'll return to one of my favorite places on Earth, Newfoundland - this will be my sixth trip, but it will be shorter than usual. Last time I visited the west and north, so heading back to spend more time in St. John's and Trinity, for two whale watching trips. There were hundreds of humpbacks there last year so crossing fingers that it will be just as good in 2020, but it's always a beautiful place to visit. From there, I'll head to the Arctic - Churchhill, Manitoba from there to spend a week with the beluga whales. The Hudson Bay coastline in Northern Manitoba is home to the world's largest population with over 57,000 belugas congregating in the region in the summer. And, while polar bears don't usually come into town until the fall, I'll be heading out with Lazy Bear Expeditions to go where they are. Seeing the belugas and the polar bears is something I've wanted to do for years.
Finally, I had such an amazing time in Croatia this past September/October that I'm going back again in 2020. I was fortunate to be able to join a small-ship cruise with Unforgettable Croatia, one of my clients, and I was seriously blown away by the experience. A small-ship cruise is nothing like going on one of those mega ships and it was one of the best trips I've ever had - it really requires a full blog post, and during this "slower" time of the year, I'll be getting to that soon. The food, the wine, the people, the scenery, the history. Incredible. For this next trip I'll be visiting Crete in Greece for a week first and then head to Dubrovnik, Korcula Island, Split, the Plitvice Lakes area, into Slovenia (Lake Bled) and the Istrian Peninsula, which is amazing, a lot like Tuscany with hilltop towns and lots of vineyards - the area is famous for its truffles too.
Just recently I spent a couple of weeks in New Zealand, so I'll be detailing that trip in my next blog post. I'd wanted to travel there since I was a teenager and it was even better than I imagined. While it's always hard for me to pick a favorite place, I have to say, that was it. I really never wanted to leave... but more on that coming soon. I'm already planning a return trip in March of 2021.
Where will you go in 2020? I'd love to hear about it!
One of the commonly asked questions about visiting Baja is "Can I bring my dog?"
Yes, you can and it's probably not as hard as you think. Baja is incredibly dog friendly, there are just a few things you need to know which is why I recently wrote this article. Published on DOGGONE DESTINATIONS, you'll find out about border crossing requirements into Mexico, dog-friendly hotels, restaurants and more.
Check it out here.
I knew it wasn't going to be easy. On April 25, I flew from Seattle to Northern California for a visit with family before taking off on a 12-day trip to Ireland. Only weeks before, I learned that I would have to travel to Baja, Mexico for an opportunity of a lifetime. The problem? My travel schedule was already jam-packed, so I had to add Baja to the end of my trip, leaving the morning after returning to Seattle - after having been awake for over 24 hours. I questioned my insanity after booking, and when I saw that old phone booth in County Clare, Ireland, I started fantasizing about it being an instant transporter, a kind of "beam me up" sort of thing. Of course, unfortunately that doesn't exist yet, but the good news is that I obviously managed to make it through - and, in the end, the long journey was well worth it.
This was the first trip to Ireland in many years that I hadn't spent my first couple of days at my cousin's house in Dublin to rest up - the jet lag can be brutal and I'd only slept maybe an hour on the overnight flight. A friend from Belgium was flying in to meet me a few hours after I arrived, so I had booked a daylet hotel near the airport to relax and shower before having to drive. While that was a big help, driving was probably not the best idea in my condition, so thankfully my travel partner for the next few days took over.
Our first stop was Killaloe, the birthplace of Brian Boru. I'd meant to visit many times but had never made it, primarily to check out the heritage center to explore the history of the last great High King of Ireland who lived from 941 to 1014 AD, and a distant ancestor. While that didn't turn out to be much, the village was incredibly picturesque, and a spot I would definitely return to in the future.
From there, it was on to Portmagee to enjoy traditional Irish music - of course, as I mentioned before leaving, our visit happened to coincide with the 'May the Fourth' Star Wars Festival, which meant we were welcomed with this:
While we both had visions of Darth Vaders and Stormtroopers invading the place, it turned out to be a crowd that was there more for the music and dancing, though we definitely experienced a bit of interesting entertainment.
This visit to Portmagee was mostly spent relaxing and enjoying the scenery, though I couldn't resist taking a cheesy photo in the "snug" area of The Bridge Bar.
After leaving Portmagee, I was on my own. I headed to Dingle, another one of my favorite destinations in Ireland. The last time I was there I managed to find an amazing apartment right in town for only 50 euro a night through Airbnb. From there, it's fun just to walk through the colorful streets, and pop into the pubs to listen to some music, and a scenic drive on the Dingle Peninsula is always a must.
While Dingle is certainly a favorite, it does attract the tourist crowds so I was especially excited to get to Inisheer Island. The smallest of the Aran Islands is the place I can definitively say that is the spot I truly love the most. Partly because of the peaceful atmosphere and the stunning scenery, but equally due to the time I get to spend chatting with my South Aran House B&B hosts, Enda and Maria.
The wildflowers this time of year are amazing. I walked through the maze of stone walls - they were between the rocks, in the fields, everywhere... but those tiny intensely blue flowers were my favorite. After a stroll, I sat on the rocks near the beach that looks as if it could be in the Caribbean, and just minutes later I was greeted by Sandy the local dolphin. While I thought the 5 nights I'd booked here might be too much, it wasn't near enough, but by the time I said goodbye, I felt more relaxed and at peace than I had in a good while.
I boarded the ferry back to the mainland with a father and daughter, Michael and Caitlin, who'd been staying at South Aran House too, and gave them a ride back to Dublin where I spent my last night with my wonderful cousin Alice.
Up at 4 a.m. on Tuesday, May 15th, I had a very long 24 hours or so ahead of me before I'd finally hit the hotel bed in Seattle. The first flight was to Reykjavik, Iceland where I had a 4 hour layover - long, but not long enough to get out and do anything. It was a big tease seeing that spectacular landscape below.
A 4 hour layover, an 8+ hour flight, and I was finally in Seattle again. After going through customs and taking the shuttle to my hotel, it was 7 p.m., 3 a.m. in Ireland, so 23 hours on the go at that point. Luckily, I slept like a rock and in the morning, it was time to fly to Cabo!
Back to that opportunity I mentioned earlier - the Airbnb host I'd stayed with several times before was in the process of building a house on his beautiful property and offered it to me for rent, for a cheap price - a short walk to the beach and to town in one of the most magical places in Baja: Todos Santos. I had to fly there to determine if it would work, and to get things finalized if so. As it turned out, it did not. After feeling so elated, it was a huge let down, but it turned out that it was all meant to be. I met a couple who also happened to be from Washington State, and ended up with a much better deal - and a rooftop patio for watching the jaw-dropping sunsets. Things seemed to flow just perfectly.
I have one more trip - Newfoundland for 10 days in June, and then, I'll be crossing the border the first week of July, on my way to a new life in Baja. While I'll keep on traveling from there, I plan to get settled and stay in my new home for most of the second half of the year. Expect lots of sunset pics.
I love to travel, obviously, but I absolutely hate the jet lag. It usually takes a few days or sometimes even longer to get over it, and by then it's almost time to return home. While there's probably no way to avoid it completely, after countless long distance trips, I have discovered a few ways to significantly minimize the fatigue and brain fog.
Gradually Change Your Sleeping Patterns Beforehand
The very best way to beat jet lag may be to gradually change the hours you go to sleep and wake up before heading out on your trip. When flying east, start going to bed earlier and waking up earlier a week or so before leaving. Do the opposite when flying west. Just be sure that it doesn't mess with your sleep schedule so much that you're not getting enough rest or you're probably going to feel even more exhausted when you arrive.
Add a Stopover
If you can squeeze in a stopover on the way to your destination, staying a night or two, it can help you more gradually adjust to the new time zone. For example, flying from Seattle to Europe, I usually try to schedule a stay in an east coast city like Boston or New York on the way.
Being well-rested before you leave makes it easier to handle the inevitable stress of traveling, and better able to deal with jet lag once you get there.
Aim to Sleep If You Have an Overnight Flight
If you’ll be flying overnight, try to get some sleep on the plane. I've always had a difficult time doing this but bringing a bag full of "tricks" makes a significant difference, including ear plugs, an eye mask and a neck pillow. You might also try adding melatonin to a cup of herbal tea. Avoid alcohol as it will just amplify the effects of jet lag in the long run.