Road Trip Essentials

Obviously, the most important thing to a road trip is a car – and I just recently got a new one! After having many struggles with my first and only car, a 2006 Kia Sportage with over 200,000 miles, I made the jump to a 2016 Subaru Forester. I rented one when I drove to the Oregon coast and loved it so much,  I had my eye on it when car shopping. Of course, I got green! I picked this size because it’s not overly big but still fits my road trip mattress in the back. I talked about road trips quite awhile ago, mainly focusing on car camping: The Good of Roadtrips, the Bad of Car Camping. But today I’m sharing some things I always try to have on a road trip! Always be prepared.

Instead of blowing money on whatever mediocre snacks I can find at the gas station I stop at, I always try and get snacks a couple of days before a road trip. Not only does this help me save money, it helps when I know I have something I’ll want (that’s also healthy!). I will usually bring protein bars, like Clif, RX, or Lara. I love bringing a bag of apples because that freshness is always welcome when you’ve been in the car for a few hours. And weirdly enough, chips and salsa is one of my favorite road trip snacks! It’s easy enough to dip straight out of the jar and easy to keep mess-free if you’re careful (or not driving). I’ll also pack pb&j ingredients because it’s my favorite hiking food, but after a terrible mishap in California I’ll never make another sandwich while on the road again.

The truth of road trips is you’ll probably have to have fast food now and again if you’re trying to save time and want something warm. Being a vegetarian, it’s not always easy to get something good. I’ve definitely learned where my favorite stops are. The market base salad at Chik-fil-A is great because it’s cheaper without the meat and is full of yummy fruits and nuts. I’ve also become a fan of the simple egg biscuit at McDonald’s. I’ve learned that too much fried food when stuck on a road trip is a bad idea, so I definitely try and stay away from fries and hashbrowns even though they’re so delicious. Of course, it’s not always easy to count on a certain fast food place to be around on the route, so I’ve learned to be flexible with the side items on the menu.

There’s only a couple of comfort items I keep on hand, mainly because I usually have a bed made up in the back. It’s an old futon mattress I cut to make it a single or double sized depending on how many of us are on the trip. We usually make it with one sheet, one pillow, and one blanket so that stuff doesn’t take up too much room. (Especially when we also have our sleeping bags with us.) One of my most important items is a pair of easy slip-on shoes no matter the weather. Getting out for a tank fillup without shoes – or having to put on boots – is so obnoxious that I always throw some sandals in my door side. It’s a no-brainer and I have a few pairs at all times in my car, but sunglasses are obviously essential for any road trip.

One of my favorite thing about road trips is discovering new things you hadn’t even thought to  look for. It’s important to know in your trip itinerary when you have extra time for stops. It’s when I leave this time that I love looking for billboards or shops that look fun or interesting. These random stops are responsible for me checking out the Georgetown caves in Texas, stopping to pet a baby alligator in Louisiana, and  the cute coffee shop find in the middle of nowhere New Mexico.

It’s important to note there’s a few things I bring just in case of emergencies. I always have a lot of stuff for the car: spare tire, automatic air pump, various fuses and tools for easy fixes. I always have lots of water just in case. (Water! Yes! Always water, usually in jugs that I pour into the two different water bottles I have with me.) I always have my taser just in case. (Especially if I’m camping or doing a lot of night driving.) I also always have my mini first aid kit with me because accidents do happen. I got a splinter at a gas station once (gross) so I was glad to have the medical tweezers.

What do you bring on your road trips?

Taking a Closer Look at the Dallas Vintage Shops

When I thrift, I mostly head to various Goodwills and various stores with the word Thrift in the name. However, for some who aren’t necessarily interested in going through a lot of bad for a big reward, there’s better secondhand shops that carry a lot more name brands and current trends. Not only that, there’s a couple of places in the Dallas area that are known for collecting amazing vintage finds. Here’s a roundup of some of the best Dallas thrift (with a focus on vintage) shops.

Buffalo Exchange

I love Buffalo first and foremost because I take stuff to sell there a lot. But they’re also one of my favorite places to checkout because they have great unique pieces! If you’re going for a resurfaced vintage trend or something a little more unusual, this store is great.

I’m not going to lie some of it can get expensive, but for selling some name brand stuff, it can also be such a great deal! I also just love the way they style their mannequin outfits. It’s always so unique and they have mastered styling different patterns and accessories together.

Genesis Benefit Store

I like shopping at Genesis because it supports a local women’s shelter. I don’t always get to make it out there because it’s kind of the opposite part of town, but it’s nice supporting local non-profit organizations. Everything spent at Genesis goes directly into helping out domestic abusive survivors who are trying to get back on their feet.

It’s also a super well-organized thrift shop. If you know you need a women’s coat, they’re very easily separated and ready to peruse. And even though their men’s section is a bit smaller, they have some great cardigans and sweaters. This shop usually tends to have nicer clothes too, for women needing interview clothes. So it’s great for when you’re looking for work wear.

Gratitude

I’d never heard of this store before researching local vintage stops. Gratitude came up on a couple of lists, so I knew I had to check it out. It’s located near the Oak Lawn area; a little house on top of a little hill. Inside is a theater production’s dream. The owner has carefully researched and classified every item by time period.

I’m not going to lie, it was too expensive for me, but you’re paying for authenticity. That’s why they also rent. If you have the perfect idea for a retro party or need a costume for some show, this place is sure to have what you need or something just as good (if not better). It’s an absolute adventure to explore all the pieces they have in this store. Especially the hats! I loved looking at all the different types and colors and shapes of vintage hats.

Vagabond Vintage

I passed this little shop a few times on my way to work and knew I had to add it to my list. Their Instagram makes it seem like they mainly have vintage t-shirts, but they honestly have so much more inside. They have all sorts of jackets and coats and truly unique pieces.

The store is on the smaller side, but it’s for those vintage lovers who are looking for those “cool” pieces. If you’re a little rock and roll, you’re going to find something you can’t leave without. And on the other end of the spectrum, for the more down-to-earth outdoorsy type, they have a lot of great warm jackets to take on your next camping trip. Overall, lots of great funky patterns (mostly 80s era) to check out.

Collegiate Nostalgia; My Favorites at OU

It took me a couple of years to stop wishing I was still in college – ah, what a “carefree” time before adulthood. I went to college at the University of Oklahoma in Norman, OK. (Side note: one of the major reasons I picked it was for how beautiful the campus is.) My time there was spent learning how to discuss literature, discovering the wonder of instant streaming, figuring out how to tolerate all types of alcohol, and meeting some best friends who I’m still close to today.

Lucky for me, I have two reasons that take me back yearly to Norman for visits – my friend Amanda still lives in the area and my mom is an Oklahoma football season pass holder! My mom always is generous enough to let me tag along for a game or two and we have such a blast.

Football is definitely a big deal as an Oklahoma Sooner. Partly because the state has no official NFL team and partly because our team takes home a lot of trophies. Besides national championships and Heisman trophies, we just overall win a lot – which obviously makes it fun to watch and root for the team. Football on Saturdays is something you plan your weekend around when it’s a Home Game. Where to tailgate, what to wear, and who you’re trash-talking (for that week). It’s packed with school spirit even if you’re not super into sports.

Besides that, some of my favorite food is only in Norman. Ted’s is a great Tex-Mex place where you can get freshly made tortillas, queso, salsa, and chips as a part of the standard table setup. Pizza Shuttle has the best cheesy bread I’ve ever had, and I’m kind of an expert.  And T.E.A. Cafe, ah, that Asian restaurant is responsible for a couple of missed classes (sorry mom) and still holds my favorite vegetarian fried rice anywhere. Plus special mention to the cheap and delicious Caesar wraps at O’Connell’s, which is a bar but definitely does not serve bar-quality food. Seriously, I cannot explain why all the food is so good.

Also, if we’re talking about food, we have to talk about The Mont, which has become my favorite place to visit when I head to Norman. They have the most amazing cheese fries (but as I get older I’m finding it harder and harder to finish them without a tummy ache- haha). But they also have delicious swirls! Swirls are frozen sangria-slash-margaritas and these ones are the best. I graduated college before I turned 21 – I actually had a swirl at The Mont as my first official of-age drink – but me and my college best friends, Cassie and Amanda, love seeing how many swirls we can tackle the older we get.

As I get older, I also find I can afford more of the stuff at the shops on Campus Corner. They have a ton of great OU stuff, so you can always find cute college sweatshirts and tees. But they also have a lot of great fashion boutiques that have a lot of really cute clothes. My favorite store, Antique Garden, always has such great gifts too! I’ve probably bought at least five gifts from there over the years. I love shopping around Campus Corner Friday afternoons before the weekend – it’s like having “adult” OU fun. Because I’m not as broke as when I was a student!

2018 Concerts; Something Old, Something New, Something Too Good to be True

Originally, I was going to do a little 2018 concert roundup before finally seeing my favorite (alive) band ever, The Kooks, this month. But they’ve moved their show to Valentine’s Day next year, so look like that’s going to be a date night, i.e. not for the blog – haha!

Something Old: Bon Iver
I used to really dig Bon Iver a few years ago, but I’ll admit I’ve fallen out of them. So obviously I wasn’t looking forward to this concert, mainly because the tickets were bought ten hours before the show. My friend Jenna was tracking last minute ticket sales for Bon Iver on Twitter and when she found tickets for half the selling price she asked if I was interested. Why not!

The Bomb Factory in Deep Ellum is one of my favorite concert venues because of the big room, packed crowd feeling. It seems intimate yet you have room to breathe – perfect for concerts. I didn’t know all of their songs obviously, but the vibe was great. Drinking a bit before concerts always helps too – haha. Bon Iver did not disappoint, and overall it was such a fun time!

Something New: Flor
I have recently been a bit obsessed with the band Flor. They’re a small indie band with great road trip vibes. I bought tickets to their little show at the Deep Ellum bar Three Links before they even had released a full album. Which, luckily for me, came out a week before they took the stage. Binging new music and seeing it live after only a few days was such a great experience!

I didn’t mind going to this one alone – which would’ve been my first solo concert – but it turned out my friend Lola was thinking about checking them out too. They are one of my favorites so I was glad they sounded just as great live. It was also so nice to have a “concert” at a bar. I was right up next to the stage but still had plenty of room. The room was full of only real fans and the music filled the street. I have made it my goal to see more bands play at small Deep Ellum bars!

Too Good to be True: Lights
I discovered the band Lights originally in my retail days, when their single Ice came into the store playlist. I’m a sucker for catchy beats and powerful female vocals, so immediately I was into them. At the time they only had a little EP album out, but I’ve liked them for long enough I always check out their new albums. They’re so random and from Canada I had kind of figured I’d never see them.

Their most recent album was an instant favorite, made better by the lead singer making a graphic novel series to go along with the new songs. They’re definitely a great girl power pop band, and seeing it at Granada, which is another intimate somewhat-grungy venue, was so awesome. Include that to being a bit wine drunk with my friend Lola, and you know we had a great time. But, you know what they say about expectations. While the show was fun, I probably would not seek out a second concert.

Honestly not a bad list of bands to see this year! I crossed off one of my must-sees, I affirmed a new favorite, and I was able to dance freely in crowded rooms. A win all around!  I love concerts because I think seeing a band live is a true test to the quality of their sound. And I love to sing and dance – and no one looks at you weird when you do it in public at a concert venue. Hopefully 2019 brings me more fun music events!

Drive through Nowhere to Hidden Organic Haven

After the awesomeness of El Malpais, we were fine that El Morro was a little disappointing. The El Morro National Monument is most known for its sandstone cliffside. Deciding our drive up to its massive edge was good enough, we got our stamp and continued on.

Here, something crazy happened and my scheduling was off by almost two hours. I know! And after I’d gotten so good at road trip timing. Driving almost the whole west border of New Mexico was quite a feat for one day, but in making the itinerary I’d cut the time it would take by a third. So after our day of fun, it was time for some driving off the grid.

Lola, Jenna, and I were very much out in the middle of nowhere, not even able to map our Airbnb on our faltering GPS. We knew the roads and the vague area though, so we went after it. The sun was setting and it was drizzling, so when we passed the first sign of civilization we decided to stop to try and connect to satellites and our Airbnb host’s directions.

Not sure we’d find another chance, we stopped at a little mart to look at snacks and then decided we might as well grab a full sit down dinner at the cafe next door. Everyone was so friendly – it was a nice little reenergizing stop. We got the directions we needed and got going even though it was so dark and we were following hand written directions (like the old days ha!) to get to our beds for the night.

We arrived and met our hosts, D & D, a cute couple who owned the bed and breakfast that we’d found through Airbnb. Immediately there was so much about the place I was in love with. The couple had spent the day picking the vegetables from their backyard to can the next day. The whole house was fragrance free and full of organic and vegetarian-friendly foods in the kitchen.

After a day of hiking and driving, we were delighted to find out there was a hot tub out back under the stars. A hot soak was just what we needed! Then I took a shower with all natural bath products and nerded out living my best clean hippie life. I definitely tried every item because it was all sulfate-free, vegan, and unscented. And maybe I took a sample of locally made coconut moisturizer.

A great night’s sleep and then I was up with the sunrise. Mostly it was hidden by the cloudy sky, but as the sun brightened the surrounding landscape beauty emerged. Ah, New Mexico sure is gorgeous. I munched on one of the homemade morning glory muffins and brewed local coffee in the pot, realizing why bed and breakfasts are so popular.

It was time to head home. After a leisurely packing and hitting the road, we began our drive. Only an hour or so later and we hit the “beginning” of our road to the day’s stop (and our last New Mexico National Park site!) the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument. This road winded through curving roads and a bunch of trees. While I had a great time driving and enjoying the scenery, there was some motion sickness from my travel buddies because of the continuous twists and turns.

Finally, though we passed back and forth between Gila National Forest and Gila Cliff Dwellings NM, we arrived at our visitor center, a secluded spot in the middle of vast nature. We were excited to get out and stretch our legs. However, well to be honest, the park ranger scared us about time. Looking at our itinerary she said we were misjudging our following drive by two whole hours and we wouldn’t have time to see the cliff dwellings.

We didn’t have GPS to check our route and because of the mishap the day before judging driving times we trusted that if we stayed to hike we wouldn’t have time to get to our next destination before it closed. Bummed, we spent a bit of time checking out the surrounding valley and then headed back through the twists and turns of road. It would turn out the ranger was wrong. We would’ve had time for our hour hike and if you can believe it our next stop (to see the bats fly out of Carlsbad Caverns) ended up being a total letdown.

Sure, there was still lots of amazing views on our drive home, but missing out on that midday hike made the final leg of our trip feel dreary. So even though I’ve learned to accept surprises when I travel, the lesson here is to appreciate the things you didn’t count on from the original itinerary. Sometimes taking the risk, brings the higher reward. We should’ve stopped to do the hike, risking missing that final stop. As always, I’m learning to take my time on road trips.

When to Judge a Book by its Cover; Hikes Based on Pictures

The three of us (well, four, counting Florence the dog) left our airbnb pretty early so we could get on the road. We stopped at an independent coffee shop in Santa Fe, called Betterday, for a little caffeine kick. Then we were catching the sunrise from the windows of my car. Even better, since we were driving past Albuquerque, we caught a sky full of air balloons from afar.  It was great up close watching them launch the day before, but it was also great seeing them all laid out across the big blue sky.

After an easy drive, we arrived at El Malpais National Monument. Besides seeing that they had caves, and incorrectly assuming their use online of the word “tubes” meant there was tubing – I knew nothing. It would turn out these tubes were more like cavern passageways. The word ‘malpais’ actually comes from a Spanish term for ‘badlands’ because a lot of the park is covered in volcanic rock.

We headed to the visitor center and talked to the ranger there. His help along with the pictures posted on the walls helped us decide on our hikes for the day. Seriously, we looked at the cool pictures and said, “that one!” Side note: I use the National Park website constantly, and if they had all the trails with times, difficulties, and pictures, etc. listed it would be so, so helpful. (Send them an email on my behalf, thanks!)

First stop was the Ventana Arch, which was a little bit out of the way driving wise, but the three of us had such great memories of Arches National Park, that we decided where there’s an arch, there we’ll be. The hike was a super easy flat one, maybe twenty minutes. The arch was awesome. It’s always so incredible to see what nature can do.

From there, we headed in the car down a long stretch of bumpy dirt road to head to our next destination: the Big Skylight Cave. This was one of the most popular images found at the visitor center so we definitely wanted to check this one out. We’d gotten a permit to access these “tubes” (a set of 4, including the Big Skylight). Because of an epidemic of white nose syndrome among the bats of the US, we had to be very careful to clean our shoes on the way in (and out) of our hiking trail.

Our hike was fun, though I’ll be honest the lava rocks were not my favorite to hike on. The whole path was marked with cairns, basically small rock towers, to show us our path, which was fun because it was basically a wide open space of varying sizes of lava rocks and no real path to follow. Then we reached the the top of the cave and we were already impressed. It was like looking into a big, beautiful crater, with an arch to the left and a big tunnel with a skylight to the right.

Warning: we did not have the appropriate gear to attempt this “tubing” adventure. They recommended helmets, gloves, and headlamps. I hadn’t even put on my good hiking boots. But when greeted with this amazing sight, I knew I had to get down in there. Just, very very carefully.

It was a bit of work getting down the cliff, finding the path with little red metal divets, and trying to scale the thing without slipping. Then we were down there, making our way across big boulders to get further into the cave. Every step was cautious, but mostly we were slow going just looking around in the hunt. The skylight was a big hole at the top of the cave, allowing a beautiful stream of light, but also hitting the rocks below enough to create a lush moss growth.

The day had been perfect above, a little crisp but perfect for a lightweight long sleeve shirt, but the deeper into the cavern we went, the colder it got. Without headlamps, we didn’t venture too much further (plus you know, we had a schedule to keep). It was absolutely breathtaking though.

We eventually made our way back up, which actually seemed easier, and hiked back to the car. I was feeling pretty great because of the whole experience, so as we headed to our next destination I was in high spirits. We were out in the middle of nowhere with little reception, but we passed one kitschy little town and the art sculptures made us slow down. Then, lo and behold, a coffee shop was right off the little highway calling our name.

On the side of the colorful building was Inscription Rock Trading coffee, and inside was a miriade of New Mexican delights. Handmade jewelry and bags, a whole herb wall, and in the back a little bar area with all sorts of coffee drinks. The intriguing art outside had stopped us, and it was the cherry on top of our recent adventure!

Dallas Ghost Tour

Since Halloween’s tomorrow, this is a special spooky blogpost! My mom and I loved the ghost tour we took on our trip to Jefferson, TX, so we decided to try out one in the Dallas area!

Her volunteer organization Altrusa had put together a bus tour with a guide to show us some of Dallas’s most famous haunted spots. However our guide, Janine, said we’d have to take everything with a grain of salt, I knew after she told us to download some free “ghost detector” apps that this would be a different kind of tour.

After one lady passed around “eyeball” Jell-O shots we were headed to our first destination, Flag Pole Hill at White Rock Lake. This area of the lake had reportings of rocks thrown at passing cars. We got off the bus and walked around the dark field with women saying, “I’ve found one!” on their apps.

It was pretty awful, to be honest. My mom and I loved our other ghost tour because of the history not because we were looking for actual ghosts (I say “actual” loosely with these free ghost detection apps). So from then on we knew we’d have to research our own history. Instead of using the app, we used the internet.

Even though I’m a frequent visitor and have never experienced anything, White Rock Lake has a lot of ghosts apparently. Besides the Flag Hill Pole, there’s also a classic Lady of the Lake and a Goat-Man. The lady is supposed to be wandering around in the rain, asking for a ride home, and then disappears from the back of your car once you take her there.

From there we headed to a notorious house in the Lake Highlands area on Blackbird Lane, that had a bunch of murders and suicides inside. We all trooped down to the end of the cul de sac and stared at the house down on the left, which wasn’t very exciting until one of the old neighbors came out to see what we were up to. They told us the house was definitely haunted, he’d lived there for years and the horses in the nearby stables never came near that side of the property.

The most exciting part for me was our next stop, the Aldophus Hotel in downtown. We weren’t exactly allowed to look inside, so our bus parked a bit away and then we went in pairs to go explore on our own. The nineteenth floor of this hotel is supposed to have all the activity. So my mom and I went on our own, admiring the gorgeous lobby and nearby hotel bar, and went into the mirrored elevator.

We got to the correct floor and researched that heavy footsteps and loud big band music was often reported by guests on this floor – which makes sense because this floor that now holds rooms used to hold a big ballroom. Two different people we asked to take our pictures said the camera was going dark while trying to take it (but I blame that on the dim lighting and amateur photographers). Weirdly, all the mirrors on this floor were super tarnished, so I don’t know if that was a stylistic choice or something more spooky.

We all got back to the bus safety and then it was time for a quick stop at a graveyard. We got to Pioneer Cemetery and me and mom decided to just stay in the bus. There was no history on this one except it holding some very old graves, and it was dark, making it look like an accident waiting to happen.

Overall, it wasn’t a great tour (based on planning and knowledge), but it was a great time. The ladies were really into it so it was fun hearing them say, “Did you see one – did you see one?” and even though I had to look up the stories and sightings, getting a look at the places was interesting. So I’m still on the hunt for a real ghost sighting; maybe one Halloween I’ll get my wish!