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?

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!

Wear With Alicia

After my trip to Jefferson, Texas, I rediscovered my love of thrifting and by this point it’s steamrolled into a big obsession. Originally when I started traveling, I gave up a lot of my shopping because I had to redistribute my money. So when the bargain hunting at thrift stores came back into my life… it maybe completely took over. Haha!

Besides it being a current obsession, I was looking for a way to share more of my “regular day life” to show I’m not just non-stop traveling. (I wish!) I love taking pictures, obviously, but taking a picture of an item of clothing isn’t very fun, so I started making videos of my thrift journeys. I kept getting asked how I thrift and what I found, so deciding to share in a video format on Instagram has been surprisingly fun. Though I’ll admit, I’m still a bit awkward in front of the camera!

I’ve previously shared some of my go-to thrifting tips (Inspired to Thrift) but I want to share why I thrift. Definitely to save money of course, but also because I get sick of my closet quickly and this way I can afford more of a “revolving” clothing option. Not only that, but recycling clothes in this way is good for the earth! We throw away so many clothes all the time, and because companies are able to make clothes cheaper than ever before, more and more are coming out in stores. We are a society that has a big trash problem.

Part of this recycling of clothes that thrifting allows means I can give away old clothes to friends, sell, or donate. I never throw something away if I can help it. I’ll even repair clothes past their prime in some cases, especially because if it’s starting to show wear, I clearly love it – haha!

So I’m going to start doing regular videos of my thrifting adventures, which can be found on my Instagram (either in my story or on IGTV). Every time I go, there’s always something new to see! I hope you enjoy them and go ahead and send me questions you may have about thrifting tips or why you love/hate thriting.

My initial video is up and an “intro” video is coming later today! So far these thrifting videos have been a fun side project, so I hope you enjoy.

Another Country in Your Backyard; a Few Hours in Mexico

With only a few more National Park sites left to visit in Texas, it was time for a weekend road trip. All three sites were along the southern east edge of my home state, two being very close to my friend Jenna’s hometown. So it was a perfect time to visit the house where Jenna grew up (in the plains with big homes next to goats!)- and just over her town’s bridge you could walk to Mexico!

We left Thursday right after work and began our drive straight down the lone star state. Even though by this point I’ve driven every direction out from Dallas, it’s still crazy to me how many hours you can spend driving and still be in Texas. We made it to Weslaco after about eight hours, marking my first time in the deep south of Texas!

After what was a pretty leisurely morning sleeping in on our first day of the trip, we got up and got ready to head to another country. Jenna’s mom came with us, so we were ready to have a carefree girl’s day, but excitingly in Mexico (Nuevo Progresso to be specific)! We crossed the bridge over the Rio Grande, paid a fifty cent toll, walked by one security guard and then we were officially traveling internationally.

Immediately we were engulfed in the crowd with sidewalk shops on either side. There were a ton of booths with souvenirs, brightly colored embroidered tops, and freshly roasted nuts and candies. Even though I had just been in Mexico a couple weeks before, the vendors were different in their eagerness. Luckily, we moved fast to our first destination: getting a good, cheap piña colada.

After that, it was time to head across the packed street for pedicures. We were doing this girls day perfectly! And of course after fruity alcohol, freshly painted toenails, the last thing missing was a bit of shopping! I found some really cute and colorful woven shoes and then while Jenna’s mom was looking at festive embroidered shirts, Jenna and I bought some fun flower crowns, because why not?

We all grabbed lunch on the side of the street, next to a big outdoor grill; I had a papa asada, which is a baked potato filled with cheese – did they read my childhood diary on what I’ve always been searching for?? By this time, I was pretty hot and sweaty, so we decided it was the perfect time to head back over the border and to the nearby coast to cool off!

Crossing back into America was a bit nerve racking because, believe it or not, I hadn’t taken my passport and the guard gave me a bit of a (teasingly?) rough time. Jenna had assured me she’d never had a passport doing this bridge walk, but I had meant to bring mine just in case. It all turned out alright, and soon I was on my way to the beach in South Padre!

Almost Left in Mexico (Because of a Backpack)

If you’ve ever flown Spirit Airlines you know they charge for every little thing, including a carry-on. Because my trip to Mexico would only be 48 hours, I was sure I could fit everything I needed into a little backpack approved by the airlines as a “personal item.” What made this idea even better was that I already had a little day hike bag on order that would perfectly fit the dimensions allowed.

Of course, this bag that would be perfect for both my California and Tulum trip (back-to-back weekends) showed up exactly one day after my flight had me due back home. In a last minute scramble for a small backpack that wouldn’t be a total waste, I went for a cute cheap one that cost me only eleven bucks.

I was so proud of fitting an additional day’s swimwear and outfit in this little bag! I’m pretty good at packing light, mostly because I can plan what I will wear for every thing planned in my itinerary. Knowing what I will need and be wearing makes it a whole lot easier to pack. Then with any leftover room, I’ll throw in an “option” outfit. Plus, I’ve been doing the “army roll” packing technique since I was twelve.

Unfortunately, even though I’d planned outfits perfectly, my cheapness would come back to haunt me (doesn’t it always?) and my zipper would be giving me trouble the first hour after landing. It just wouldn’t work right with everything I’d crammed in! So after less than twenty-four hours of struggling (even though I’d perfected the departure flight), my backpack was broke and I was traveling around Mexico holding my bag flaps together.

I spent a lot of my last night in Playa del Carmen scouring souvenir shops for a bag that would fit the Spirit requirements, wasn’t too expensive (like the gorgeous embroidered leather backpacks I kept seeing but knew I was too poor for), and would be something I could keep using even after returning home. Finally, I found a cute cotton tote that would be perfect for my light grocery shopping when I made it back home. I cleaned out my bag, only had to lose one swimsuit cover-up that just wouldn’t fit, and thought all would be well on the flight back.

Unfortunately, it would be this clean-out and not the new bag that would cause me to almost be left in Mexico. Ai yi yi.

Tracy and I, both being Type A, had gotten to the airport three hours early after dropping off the rental car. We wanted no stress of rushing through the airport, dealing with any customs stuff, and finding our yet unnamed gate. Even after the unnecessary line at the “one” Spirit ticket kiosk, we still had time to explore the airport shops and have a sit-down meal at the airport Margaritaville. We were living a very relaxed airport life. Then it was time to board and right as they were asking for my boarding pass it was mentioned that I also needed the customs form that hadn’t been needed since landing in Mexico two days earlier. Even as I dumped my new bag out, I clearly remembered disposing (carefully, I might add) of that little slip of paper that hadn’t seemed at all important at the time.

I would not be allowed on the plane without it and there was only twenty or so people left to board before take off. I was freaking out. I got instructions from the flight attendant twice on where I had to go to get a replacement. Tracy handed me two 20 dollar bills quickly – because of course they would only take cash – and then I began to run through the airport. My destination was outside of security and by now it was midday so those lines were long, very long. I ran to the side where it looked to be a handicap access area and said, “I’m getting a new customs form. I’m coming right back through here.”

Without waiting for approval, I ran out to the main entrance of the Cancun Airport. I got a new customs form (thankfully I’d brought along my passport with my wallet – my bag was with Tracy back at the boarding line). And then ran back to the security checkpoint. The lines were so long it looked like it would take me at least half an hour to get through – but no, I ran back to the side line and rushed back under the handicap sign. I nodded to the woman who I’d spoken to without waiting for confirmation, threw my stuff on the conveyor belt, and ran back through the duty-free shops. At the gate, it was just Tracy and the flight attendant left, the later giving me a surprised, “Oh, you made it.” So some people don’t make it?!

After wasting more time by checking all my stuff, dangerous chemical test swabs and a pat down, they finally let me on the plane. Tracy was a trooper for waiting; I would’ve hated if she got stuck in Mexico because of me! We could somewhat laugh about it after taking our seats, but mostly my heart was still pumping and I couldn’t yet appreciate crossing a new experience off my bucket list – running through an airport.

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!