Tequila + Tulum = No Worries

Since last minute getting my passport last year, I made it my goal to travel outside of the US at least once a year. I started getting nervous because I didn’t have an international trip planned and I think this realization spurred my sudden obsession with going to Tulum. I’d read a blog about some great places in Tulum and the more research I did, the more I saw how affordable a weekend getaway to Mexico would be!

I started asking a couple of my best friends who’d be interested in randomly heading to Mexico. Tracy, who like me usually prefers a structured plan, was down! So one Friday on a bit of a whim, we booked our round trip flight. It was the first time I’d booked flights without a real plan – it was so exciting! And then pretty much immediately terrifying. I decided this kind of trip was just what I needed. Something a little scary, a little unstructured, and a lot of fun!

By the time we were thousands of feet in the air with drinks in our hand (we had to splurge a little), we pretty much had a rental car, two nifty Airbnbs booked, and a lackadaisical list of stuff we’d like to try. For me, this weekend was all about the somewhat scary excitement for international travel but also having an easy good time.

We landed, picked up our rental car, and then it was time to drive down a Mexican highway to Tulum. After my obsessive look into different aspects of Tulum, it was hard to believe I was finally doing it! The whole time Tracy and I couldn’t believe we’d booked this random trip for a quick weekend getaway in the middle of our regularly scheduled lives.

After reaching Tulum with no hiccups, we stopped at a grocery store to pick up some tequila. We searched for a long time looking for salsa (of all things to be hard to find) and then were ready for drinks and snacks back at our home for the night. Our next task would be to find it.

There’s no real addresses in Mexico, so our Airbnb gave us a nearby intersection and one picture of the outside door. Not going to lie, it took a lot of circling around on one-way streets until finally we found it. Once there though, it was awesome! A little hidden bungalow loft in the middle of downtown Tulum nightlife.

After a drink (maybe two) we headed out to explore. We grabbed dinner and made a furry friend. Stray dogs were pretty common and very low key, just coming up and plopping nearby to where people sat. We had one sit near us while ordering drinks and having quesadillas. (In Mexico, these were actually just a small flour tortilla with some melted cheese – haha!)

We spent some time walking around, ordering more drinks, shopping the souvenir stores along the main strip, and ended up finding another restaurant with actual swings along the bar! It was so relaxing. Not having a real plan, we went back to our Airbnb, cooled down and made ourselves another drink. After hanging for a bit, wondering if we should settle in for the night we realized we could see some of the bars from our balcony and decided – heck, why not? – and headed back out for more drinks.

It was so easy-going! It was such a fun time to just walk around, try new things, listen to the live music, and chat. We ended up at a pretty cool dance bar, hoping the drinks would be enough to give us some liquid courage, but by that point we were too hot and tired. If it sounds like all we did that first night was walk around and drink – you’re exactly right.

Our first night was the perfect start to a stress-free weekend getaway!

Blogiversary: Two Sides of the Gemini

This blog is one year old today!! So I don’t truly believe in horoscopes, but sometimes it’s fun to look at them after the day has passed. I officially started this blog on this date, exactly a year ago. Before taking time to think about how far I’ve come (a lot!), I wanted to share my horoscope of that -this- day, 2017.

“A critical turning point arrives in your life today via the full moon in Pisces, dear Gemini. You need to find a better balance between your personal and your public lives.”

How funny, as a pretty private person, that day would be the one I would start sharing my journey on the internet. So why did I start a blog? Mainly because I love writing, always have. Secondly because I was excited to be actively pursuing adventure instead of just dreaming about it.

Once I started traveling and having new experiences, I realized how easy it is to do! If you make it a priority, if you chase your interests, it’ll happen. So now not only do I hold myself accountable by blogging twice weekly, I try to encourage readers to get out and and explore also! Sometimes it seems we’re just afraid to take that first step.

I’ve started my mission to collect all of the National Parks stamps – I’ll even be done with the entire Southwest Region by the end of this year!

I made it my mission to travel internationally at least once a year – after booking impromptu trips this and the previous summer to Belize and Tulum, respectively.

I made it a goal to be a tourist in my hometown, Dallas, so I could experience all the hot spots as well as find new local things to do.

I’ve prioritized hiking, by trying to make it to every trail and park in my area. I wanted to prove to myself I could find amazing nature in the backyard of a big city.

And finally, I’ve strived to say yes more and more. When a friend invites me to a sage-making class, when my dad invites me to learn a new sport – I go!

So yeah, I’ve shared a lot with all of you. On my Instagram, I try to post daily to keep myself active in adventure. But I’m still pretty private, and that’s good. I’m very protective of my relationship, I try not to be too obnoxious with picture-taking, and I totally understand when a friend doesn’t want to be mentioned in a blog.

I’ve learned a lot about balancing! For me that mainly means pursuing what makes me happy and being so, so grateful for everyone in my life. It would’ve been much harder on this journey alone (i.e. impossible). So thanks everyone for a fantastic, unimaginable first year!

There for the Trees, Obviously

It seems odd to be heading to the Big Lagoon in Redwood National Park, but after our morning hike we were ready for a bit of a cool down and some relaxation. I’d never been to a lagoon before, but this one just ended up looking like a little pond. I had imagined lush greenery and cool blue waters. The water was pretty cold though, so after a dip it turned into taking a nap in the grass.

It was getting late in the afternoon, so Austin, Jenna, and I headed to the showers so we could get some of the trip’s grime off us before one final hike. Yes, if you’re wondering, we would’ve liked to shower after our final hike, but since the campsites were full we would be backcountry camping in the area of the Tall Trees trail. Logistically, we were going to take it easy on our hike and try and remain comfortable for camping.

As mentioned in my previous post, you need permits to get to the Tall Trees trail and you have to drive a bit of rough road to get there. Having the code to get into this “private” area was so cool. Plus, we were finally going to spend some time with the actual redwoods! So much of Redwood Park is devoted to nature that isn’t exactly tree related. I was ready to finally walk among the tallest trees in the world!

This trail started at the top of a hill, so the trail itself had a bit of elevation and several switchbacks. But being in the trees that blocked the surrounding stuff out was amazing. I haven’t grown up with much woods in my life, so being in a huge forest with massive trees was definitely different.

Once we reached the bottom, we were in the “Tall Trees Grove” which was full of the biggest trees I’ve ever seen. We hadn’t run into hardly anyone, but now that we had hiked a couple hours we could hear campers not too far from the creek. It was lovely. However, we had not hiked down with our tent, so after some photos (of course), it was time to head back the way we’d come.

The sun was definitely setting, and we’d planned on setting up our tent in the dark, but Jenna had us on a mission to hike back up and out before all the light was gone. Even with some steep spots of elevation, we made it back up in less than an hour. We’d turned on our lights only five minutes before we were done, so we basically accomplished our goal.

Setting up camp though, seemed like a tiresome ordeal. We hadn’t had a great night’s sleep previously, we were all pretty amped from our vigorous hike, and as we were scouting for a location to set up our tent, we wondered if it was worth it. The time of sleep we’d get would be almost equivalent to how long it would take to set up and break down camp. We scrapped our plan and decided to just go ahead and get on the road while we were still wide awake.

This would prove to be kind of awful, because all the motels along our drive were completely booked or super expensive. We didn’t realize how much traffic had headed to the California coast to escape the big Carr wildfires. Plus it was summer, prime time for camping and road trips. After getting too exhausted to keep driving, we finally pulled over and grabbed a few hours sleep in our cramped car. The plus side is the sun was rising soon and we had gained more time for a stop in San Francisco!

Headed to Redwood, Seeing the NorCal Coast

My friend Austin had Alaska Airlines vouchers that he needed to use by the end of August, so it was time to make a trip back to the west coast! He’d been to Seattle and I’d been to Portland so we made a compromise and made plans to head to Redwood National Park in California. Funnily enough, our flights would take us briefly to Seattle and through some of the coastline of Oregon, giving us a bit of a win-win!

Our first stop in Seattle only provided us a three hour layover. Most people would stay at the airport, but I was not about to waste a whole half a day of vacation time sitting on a plane or in an airport. We thought we’d check out Angle Lake, which was just one stop over on the Link Light Rail. Well, first we thought we’d change the plan last minute and check out Rainier Beach because it was pretty close. Surprise, this did not work out – haha!

After leaving the residential area of Rainier Beach (couldn’t even see Mt Rainier), we got back on track to check out Angle Lake. A short walk through a little scenic neighborhood and we arrived. Unfortunately, we weren’t close to the public access, but we probably wouldn’t have gotten in anyway. It was a nice way to stretch our legs between flights and see a pretty sight. And that totally counts as a visit to Seattle, right? Yeah, probably not.

Onto another short flight to Medford, OR and it was time to pick up our car and meet up with my friend Jenna, who’d taken a different flight. The air was pretty smoky from the wildfires that were only an hour’s distance. We got our groceries and got on the road to California!

This was my second time driving toward the west coast this year, and it is just so damn beautiful. You have big fields of flowers, eerie mountains in the distance, and a wide coast with cliffs and giant rocks. Everything is in shades of blues, greens, and purples, except for when the sun comes out and then everything is cast with a soft glow. I know I’m waxing poetic over here, but I never was a huge fan of beaches until I explored the pacific northwest coastal areas.

We got to Crescent City, which is the main city in the northern section of the Redwood National Park. We stopped at a bodega for some local beer and crossed the street to the skate shop, Local Boys, because it seemed like a cool place. I love these little “adventure” towns because in the local shops you can find people who know all about the hiking and good nature spots, as well as find art and jewelry made by local artisans.

We checked into our campsite (booked in advance and the last one available), set up our tent, allowed Austin a mini panic attack when he thought he’d gotten poison ivy, and headed back out to the coast. We wanted to catch sunset before having dinner and enjoying some brews.

It wasn’t too busy for sunset on the Crescent Beach Overlook, so we enjoyed it and got some great shots. Then it was time for my favorite excuse for hiking trips – PB&J! Having not actually hiked our first day, we all got full so fast. Then we tried to enjoy our beers that was pretty hard considering everything. It’s hard to enjoy (or feel a bit of buzz from) your beer when you don’t have ice, you just ate too much, and you spend 20 minutes opening them without a bottle opener. Haha!

It got dark quicker than expected, but we hung around chatting until we had to turn on our headlamps. As always on camping trips, the sky out in the middle of nature is so awesome. You can see a billion stars and you don’t mind when it hurts from craning your neck back so long to keep staring. We got into our tent, wished no bears would bother us, and passed out ready for our full plans for the following day.

Katie Jackson Park trail review

As most of you know by now, I love finding hidden nature trails in the city!

Living in Dallas, it’s not exactly easy finding nature escapes where I can’t actually hear the traffic. To be honest, most hiking trails in my area you can always see at least a building. But we have our big nature centers luckily – and we have some hidden gems in our suburbs!

I found out after the fact that the Katie Jackson Trail is prime for “off road” bicycling but this made for a pretty great hiking trail as well! This trail was great for its zero foot-traffic. I hiked on a Friday morning with my friend Lola and we spotted no one else our entire time on the trail.

This trail is split into North and South sections, but other than that uninformative guidance, I cannot tell you how it’s laid out. Lola and I even got lost for a good twenty minutes! We really could’ve used a bit more maps or even less left-or-right options. But I will say the trails were well-marked and there was no chance of wandering off the path.

Because this trail is mostly a biking trail, there are a lot of great dips and inclines scattered throughout which I enjoyed. It’s easy to find a flat walking surface and so much harder to find a trail with some variety!

We were nestled in the middle of a North Dallas suburb so there was definitely evidence of people. Quite a bit of trash and even in one area a very clear teenage hangout. Someone had built a wooden loft and brought out a couple of lawn chairs to have a little break mid-trail. Lola and I thought this was hilarious – but also probably very cool for the local kids to have their own secret hangout.

Of course, the last upside I’ll leave you with was the beautiful views! This trail meets a creek a couple of times, offering a nice view every now and then. Plus, there’s one section with a big field which offers lost of different wildlife and nature to explore.

I will definitely be checking this trail out again – it’s probably great in Spring!

How I Plan a Travel Itinerary

Trip planning can be complicated depending on how much time you have and how many people there are to please. But, while I do like a bit of spontaneity, having an itinerary when I travel is always a big help! It makes sure I get done the big things on my list and can also save time and money. Below is the easiest way to lay out a trip!

  1. Figure out arrival and departure time
    This will help you frame your travel (obviously)! You’ll need to know exactly how much time you’ll have, which includes airport nonsense. Don’t plan anything for an hour after “flight arrival” and plan to be at the airport 2-3 hours before “flight departure.”

2. Do your research; create a list
This is my favorite part. I can spend hours on Tripadvisor and other blogs reading reviews of what there is to do in a city. I will definitely look into museums and nature areas (gardens and National Parks), but I also like to try to find the unique stuff. I want to fill my time with stuff I can only do at the place I’m visiting. Make a list – and try and rank it, that way you know what you won’t want to miss.

3. Plot everything on a map
This is how you figure out your locations. You’ll find you can sometimes learn the “burroughs” this way in a big city. Grouping things by location will help you plan how you’re getting to places. If you know they’re close to each other you can save time knocking them both of your list. You can also save money by walking if two things are close enough together. Sometimes something will even drop off my schedule if it’s too far and/or by itself.  Don’t forget you’ll also want to plot the airport and where you’re staying every night!

4. Planning for time
Once you have a vague idea of the location you’ll be in on a certain day, you can start trying to plan for how much time you’ll need at a certain attraction. If I have three things in one area, I will check out opening times. Whatever opens first will start my day and from there I decide how much time I think I’ll be at one thing. Don’t forget to also check out closing times! You don’t want to have something that closes the earliest as the last thing on your schedule.
Important: Leave wiggle room in your schedule! You want to plan more time than you think you’ll need at every place. Plus you don’t want to forget “travel” time between destinations. 

5. Leave space as a catchall
You took more time than you thought at place 2, so you missed place 3? No worries! Create time in your schedule for things you missed or things you only discovered once you got into town. Creating “blanks” in your schedule can be very comforting. While I do like to accomplish a lot on trips, I still like to have a good stress-free time! This time can also be used to be lazy, if everything else is going according to plan. (I tend to plan more “blanks” the more people there are.)

So that’s the basics of trip planning (specifically city travels)! You’ll notice I’m not very good at planning eating – I usually just don’t care that much where we eat since I get a Caesar salad petty much everywhere. Sometimes though, there’s local spots that have something rare- like in DC one breakfast spot had homemade poptarts. And if you know me at all, you know I love finding local homemade ice cream. It’s always a must-have on my list!

There’s one last thing I’ll say about trip planning: Things will go wrong. I’ve not had one flawless itinerary to date. No matter how much research I do, how flexible my schedule is – there’s some things you can’t plan for no matter what you do. So you have to be flexible! Be willing to move things around or drop items off your list. It’ll make a much more enjoyable trip, trust me.

They Don’t Call it “Big” Bend for Nothing

I woke up to my last day at Big Bend National Park very optimistically. The day felt endless and so I had no doubt I would be able to accomplish every single thing on my Big Bend list. In retrospect, this is hilarious because I had five hours to try and cross off sixty miles of driving and twelve miles of hiking. Plus, you know, enjoy the views. Good luck!

First item on the list was catch sunrise. I hadn’t slept all that well in the night, mainly because it was a bit too hot to ever really get comfortable. I was ready to get moving and all packed up. While doing this, a javelina wandered into our campsite! This certainly wasn’t on my checklist, but you can’t say no to meeting new friends. This little hog-like mammal was also my most exotic wild animal sighting to date!

Based on the incredible span of views, we had decided the day before that the Rio Grande Overlook would be our best (easy to reach) spot to watch sunrise. It required only a two minute walk and then you were at a hill that had unobscured three-sixty views. We could see the sun just starting to peak over the mountains, so all the plains were changing beautiful colors. As you’ve probably figured out by now, I love catching a sunrise in National Parks. You’re never disappointed.

Before the sun could rise too much, I knew we should get moving to start on our big hike of the day. It wouldn’t be as hot as the day before, but this was still Texas after all. It definitely wouldn’t be cold. We moved from the east side of the park to the middle, finally entering the Chisos Basin mountain area. We would be checking off one of the trails to a peak of about 7500 feet. The Lost Mine Trail.

This was a moderate level hike, not to steep all at once, but lots of switchbacks to reach the top. As always, elevation can get you if you rush too much or don’t remember to focus on your breathing. For me, this trip was right after a long two-week illness, so I was very much feeling the strain on my body. Luckily, this trail had lots of benches and amazing scenic stops. Anytime I needed a minute to pant, I also snapped a shot of the trail of the surrounding mountains.

As always on a trail like this, as soon as you reach the top, it’s all worth it. This peak had quite a few boulders to climb and get a little risky with. You can climb steep rock formations and slip between cracks if you were feeling like a daredevil. To be honest, I played it pretty safe, but both Austin and Jenna got great (slightly scary) shots at the top. I preferred relaxing and enjoying the insanely beautiful sights.

Making our way down, I realized it was noon already. Our end at Big Bend had come swiftly, leaving me with a list of only about seven other things I’d wanted to do. Even after spending a weekend there, I’d still only seen about half of the Park. But I’d also done so much!

On our scenic drive out of Big Bend, I started talking about coming back later in the fall or early spring of next year. There’s been a couple of trips previously where I knew I’d need to go back, but this was the first time I felt like I hadn’t done a majority of my list. Sure, I’d hiked three major trails, got into two different bodies of water, and seen exciting wildlife – but that just goes to explain how big Big Bend really is!

I can’t wait to see what else I can cross off next time!