Posts tagged United States

Road Trippin’ America: Highlights from the West Coast

Damn does it feel good to be moving again…

The warm California air whipped through the open windows of our camper and the orange jagged horizon unfolded endlessly before us as we rolled on down the empty highway. We both basked in the moment of freedom that a road trip brings, smirks stretched across our face, lungs filling with the desert air.

Beside me sat my Dutch friend Tijs (pronounced Tice) who I met last summer during my time sailing in the Mediterranean, and now my adventure comrade for this last minute unplanned road trip. He had his hand out the window, letting the air carry it up and down like riding waves, and bobbed his head to the music blaring from our speakers.

How cliché this moment was I thought.

Two dudes in a camper van listening to Eddie Vedder’s “Hard Sun” and driving into the unknown on a small American road trip in the wild west. Like something out of a movie.

I watched the hazy asphalt disappear beneath the car and melt into the distance in the rear-view mirror, into the past, with the road before us going into the unknown. It was liberating — gripping that wheel and escaping the city. I felt light and airy and free again on the move. Maybe I’m a fool to think I can ever stop moving because this feeling was the essence of the human spirit, and I’m addicted to it.

How do other people spend most of their lives never doing this?” I mused.

No agenda. No ticking clock of an everyday schedule. Just the open road. Just the purity of breathing and exploring and adventuring and living. Happiness was in that crimson and gold sunset, in the heavy desert air filled with fables of the Universe, hidden within the fingerprints of the earth that are the cracks and crevices of the mountains following along our journey. It waits for all of us to find. We rolled on.

Our West Coast Road Trip

When I say last-minute and unplanned road trip, that’s exactly what it was. And that’s the way I like it.

Hello Lost Ones, I’ve just returned from this very trip that involved a week long adventure driving through sand and snow, up mountains and through valleys, sleeping under the stars and under parking garage lights, towns in wastelands and giant sculptures made of waste. Oh, and I cannot forget that sweet and delicious apple pie in a town known for, well, apple pies.

Ever since I watched Into the Wild, or read On the Road by Jack Kerouac, I’ve wanted to do a proper road trip across the United States. Like many others, the spirit captured in those works inspired me to travel, and I wanted to have an experience like those.

Last year, when I finished up my 5 months as a photographer on sailboats, I told the skippers all I wanted to do was go for a road trip in the States. After wintering in Washington DC, I didn’t think it would happen. But when my friend rang me up asking if I wanted to go on a small road trip, I was all game.

This trip was a quickie and a doozy…

To say it was a whirlwind of a trip would be a very light description of it. We were literally all over the west, to the point where my bank froze my card because of the sporadic spending in multiple states per day.

One day we were in California, the next in Nevada and Arizona. But, with some of the National parks spanning multiple states, that was inevitable. The road trip was a little rushed as well, given my Dutch buddy had only a week to travel around with and had some main points of interest he wanted to see.

So how did we do with time and points of interest?

With the handful of must-see places as our only plan, we let our GPS do the navigating and let random encounters or places on maps that caught our eye guide the trip. For most of the road trip, that worked out awesome. We found hidden places that I haven’t seen anyone else cover, experienced small town America where the kindness and hospitality actually beat out what you see in the movies (Well howdy do ya’ll!), and camped in some of the most beautiful national parks in the United States.

Sometimes not planning is good. Sometimes, it’s really bad.

On the other hand, not planning turned out to be a big mistake in the final neck of the journey when we attempted to drive into Yosemite National Park from the west. That became mission impossible, and it took us nearly 2 days to reach Yosemite.

With Google Maps and Waze not showing proper road conditions, and websites not being updated fast enough with road closures, we were forced to drive all the way north of the Sierra Mountains, and down back south to the only road open. And that was after driving through snow flurries and avalanche zones. Wew.

Road Trip West Snow Flurries in Yosemite

This road trip made me fall in love with the spirit of America.

When I say fall in love with the spirit of America, I don’t mean gun-totin’ yee-haw “Murica is the best!” xenophobic attitude it has been stamped with recently. I mean that spirit of exploration, the spirit of the natural beauty embodied in famous paintings and captured in the words of writers and poets.

That spirit of being on the open road, of filling your life with the simple joy of wandering, of the majestic natural diversity of this enormous country. That spirit I uncovered in this recent road trip. Something I didn’t discover on my first road trip across the United States, and only had a small taste of on various train journies across the country.

It made me want to explore more of the United States.

After years of leaving the United States thinking adventure only lived outside of the country, I’ve found there is plenty to be had here in America. And this small road trip made me eager to see more of the National Parks, and to drive more of those endless highways.

Here is a small taste of each location we hit on this week-long road trip, and there is plenty more to write about that I’ll feature in articles soon. For now, come relive this trip getting lost in the wild west of the United States.

West Coast Road Trip Highlights

Los Angeles

We kicked off the road trip in Los Angeles for a night. Even though I’ve been in Los Angeles now for a month or two and I’ve been making it a point to wander the city photographing it, I still don’t know what to do when a friend shows up. Of course, there are some staples most want to see, so we stuck to that. Hollywood sign hike, Venice beach in all of its quirkiness, and all you can eat tacos on Tuesdays. The essentials. Since we only had a night in Los Angeles and both were saving our funds for the trip, we kept the itinerary small.

Panorama Photo of Los Angeles from behind the Hollywood Sign in the Valley, with Ryan Brown of Lost Boy Memoirs watching the sunset while wearing an iconic LOST jean jacket.

Visiting Los Angeles? Here’s how to explore it for cheap!

San Diego

Day 1 took us to San Diego, one of my favorite cities on the west coast. Though it was again a big city and we were eager to get out into the National Parks, San Diego was fun nonetheless. I love it for the food and the beaches and the nightlife. I really had no clue what to show my friend, so we did a lot of wandering around the harbor. The famous monumental smooch from the end of WWII stands near the retired USS Midway battleship which was pretty cool to see.

Super cheesy but one of my favorite spots in San Diego is the Old Town. Made up to be like the old west, it has touristy written all over it, but I can’t help myself. I go there for the old school rootbeer and Tijs found his much prized Dutch licorice inside a shop here. You know the Dutch and their licorice. Good for a wander around, great for chips and margaritas at sunset.

While in San Diego, we wandered around Balboa Park which is another hotspot, and then met up with a friend to hit the San Diego nightlife in the Gaslamp district. Gaslamp has to be one of my favorite places for a night out, the area is packed with different bars and restaurants and was a good way to enjoy our reunion before hitting the road.

Julian

What can I say about Julian town? It’s basically one street long and tucked into the mountains on the way to Las Vegas. But, I will admit, it has some of the best damn apple pie I’ve ever had. That’s what this town is known for if it’s known at all really. On a previous road trip, we accidentally found this town, and I loved the old and classic vibes so much I had to take Tijs here.

I’m glad we visited again. Besides a couple locals telling us about a unique spot to check out nearby, we both had the chance to stop for lunch and have some homemade apple pie. Worth it. I mean, when you roll into a town and they have pies and caramel apples cooling in the window, you can’t go wrong.

I also stocked up on some 35mm film rolls I found in an antique shop since I was running out on the trip already. Hopefully, they turn out even if they were expired!

Galleta Meadows

Galleta Meadows was an absolute gem of a discovery, and only because of some super kind (and extremely talkative) locals in an antique store in Julian insisted we go. Out in the middle of the desert in Borrego Springs stand more than 100 metal sculptures of all shapes and size — from dinosaurs to massive birds to offroading jeeps. I’ll be featuring this in a separate article, but talk about quirky and weird huh? Only in California…

Galleta Meadows Borrega Springs metal sculpture

Jurassic Park anyone? Ricardo Breceda, the artist of these fantastical and fascinating sculptures, was enlisted by Dennis Avery to fill his massive and barren desert estate with sculptures. We couldn’t drive around to see all of them, given that would take an afternoon, but we had some time to explore. And pose…

Photo of Galleta Meadows Borrega Springs metal sculptures in the desert.

Kiss of the dragon?

Photo of Galleta Meadows Borrega Springs metal sculptures in the desert.

I think Tijs will need to work on his raptor skills. But it’s close eh?

Salvation Mountain

Salvation Mountain has a special meaning to me. Back in 2012 after taking the Amtrak across America, Salvation Mountain was a part of a small road trip precursor to a new and exciting adventure abroad. It also came after one of the darkest periods of my life, when a year before I was nearly swallowed whole by a deepening depression.

One of the movies that inspired me to travel, Into the Wild, featured this amazing and colorful monument in the middle of the desert, and I knew I had to visit. Though I’m not religious, it was meaningful for me to visit it then and leave a memento for my parents who had passed away for wherever they were now. And given this last-minute road trip was so like the Into the Wild route, and we were constantly blasting its soundtrack, it was a fitting place to show my friend that not many people see.

Unfortunately, my memento was no longer there, but the memory still was.

Photo of Salvation Mountain in California from Into the Wild

Photo of paint buckets at Salvation Mountain in California from Into the Wild

Salton Sea

To give my friend a unique perspective of the west from the glitz and glam, and to show him a bit of an anomaly on a road trip, we went to Salton Sea. Once an area of abundance and hailed as a new resort destination for the rich in the 1950’s, an engineering disaster flooded the lake with pollutants and agricultural runoff and froze everything in time.

Now, the surrounding towns are either abandoned and destroyed, salt crusted, or impoverished. Wandering the lake you see skeletons of old houses and piles of fish bones that washed up from the massive lake. It’s surreal and gives you a feeling that this is what a post-apocalyptic world would look like.

Road Trip West Salton Sea

Road Trip West Salton Sea

Las Vegas

Nothing to show really. We arrived late, drank expensive drinks, Tijs gambed (and won!) and we slept in a casino parking lot. I still don’t like Vegas.

Grand Canyon

I’ve always wanted to visit the Grand Canyon ever since I was little. Once upon a time I did, years ago when I was very young, but I don’t remember it. And the last time I drove across the United States, I somehow completely drove past the damn Grand Canyon! This time I finally made it.

We all know the Grand Canyon, but it’s really different to experience it, to hike it, and to camp there. One of the most popular destinations and national parks to visit in the United States, it’ll be busy most of the season, but there’s still plenty of reason to visit. And luckily we got the last available walk-in spot when we showed up.

Talk about lucky.

We only spent an evening and a morning there, but even in that short period of time, it became one of the most memorable travel experiences I’ve had. At night we ate by the fire and I taught Tijs how to make s’mores for the first time, and the next morning we hiked down into the canyon.

Photo standing at the edge of the Grand Canyon in Arizona.

It really does feel like you’re standing at the edge of the world when you see the Grand Canyon, especially for someone afriad of heights.

Photo standing at the edge of the Grand Canyon in Arizona at sunset.

Smores by the fire in Grand Canyon long exposure.

Want More Grand Canyon?

Come check out this photo series from the Grand Canyon South Rim!

Read it

Mojave Desert

After a grueling 12+ mile hike down and up the Grand Canyon, we had a long drive ahead of us. We wanted to drive straight from the Grand Canyon to Yosemite, but that’d take us an entire day, so we opted to stop back in Mojave for the night.

A few days before, we drove through the Mojave National Park on our way to Vegas, so both of us wanted to get a good night sleep and see it in the daytime. We stopped in Hole in the Wall campground named for the portion of a mountain in the distance that looks as though a chunk had been eaten out of it, and wow do you get a view of the stars there!

Long Exposure Photo Hole in the Rock Mojave

In the morning, we woke up to a beautiful sunrise in the desert, surrounded by odd looking plants and cacti, and wildly unique rock formations. Since it was Easter, my travel companion showed me a Dutch tradition.

Road Trip West Majave

Easter Egg in Mojave Desert

Lake Delores Abandoned Waterpark

Out in the middle of the Nevada desert, someone thought it’d be smart to make a water park. It kinda’ makes sense, I mean I’d want to hit a water park often given the heat out there. Being that it is surrounded by a whole lot of nothingness on a hard-to-reach stretch of freeway, and the closest towns aren’t tourist destinations, it was destined to fail.

On my various trips from Vegas to California (no, I’m not a gambling addict — unfortunately I lived in vegas once) I passed by this park and always wanted to explore it. I’m also a bit of an urban and rural exploring junky and am always looking to find abandoned places so this was a must for both of us. It took a bit of offroading to get there, but it’s no longer surrounded by fences and there was no security preventing us from wandering.

Apparently, it was open until 2005, but much of the park rides and water slides were sold off to other amusement parks. It was fascinating to walk around the place imagining it once bustling with people, with kids frolicking about in the attractions, and there actually being life in such a desolate place.

Photo of Lake Delores Waterpark in Nevada

Lake Delores Abandoned Water Park

Death Valley

When asked what my favorite part of the trip was, it’s hard to decide. But one of the favorites was definitely Death Valley. The entire day was packed with road trip adventures already, from waking up in Mojave to the abandoned water park, could have been a good day alone. Somehow, we managed to fit in stops along the barren stretches of highway for cool photos, hiked in a canyon, chilled on some sand dunes, went swimming, and made chili under the desert stars.

Highway into Death Valley

Animal skull portrait Death Valley

Death Valley itself is a profound place. One of the lowest, dryest, and hottest places on earth, you really get an appreciation for the cycle of life and death out there. And the stark beauty of the desert itself and changing landscape is wild. Highways seem to stretch forever into an orange horizon. The beating sun creates mirages on the road as you drive.

Photo sitting in Mosaic Canyon in Death Valley, Nevada

The campgrounds in Death Valley are pretty freakin’ great. And was the best we had the entire trip, but not the most wild. Luckily they had enough space for us even though we arrived late. At $18 it wasn’t expensive at all for the amenities we had in that little oasis of a campground. Cafés, restaurants, a pool (oh that was so glorious after a long hike), showers, and toilets. The little things that are so glorious after dirty days of long hikes and no showers.

We managed to squeeze in a hike even though it was late, and the Mosaic Canyon hike was short enough for us to tackle before sundown. It also allowed us to make it to the insanely awesome sand dunes Death Valley is known for.

Photo of Sand Dunes in Death Valley National Park

One of the most beautiful sunsets I’ve ever witnessed. The hot white sand turned purple as the sun fell behind the mountains, and the wind kicked up small sandstorms in the distance. After a while, the whipping sand was too much to handle and we had to leave, but the experience of seeing the sunset while sitting on desert dunes will forever be ingrained in memory.

Yosemite

Oh Yosemite. The end of our road trip, and the most difficult to get to. That’s putting it lightly, it was damn hard to get to! After leaving Death Valley, we drove north following our directions from Google, only to find every road through the Sierra Nevada range closed. I have to say, it was pretty wild of a contrast to drive from desert sand dunes to snow covered mountains in one day.

Sierra Nevada Mountains Lee Vinnie

As we pushed north, we realized we would have to drive all the way around the northern tip of the Sierras, and ended staying at a motel in South Tahoe for the night. South Tahoe wasn’t too much of a highlight, it was pouring rain so we had a relaxing night drinking beers, doing some much-needed laundry, and getting some quality rest. When we woke in the morning, we found our van covered in snow, and the entire day of driving would be through thick flurries of snow.

Road to Yosemite Highway 120 snow covered.

Yes, this bit of the trip was adventurous to say the least, but the fact that we drove a camper through flurries and avalanche zones (I freaked when I saw snow tumbling down the hill side) is pretty crazy in hindsight. We saw multiple car crashes and people stranded, but somehow we managed to clear the snow, only to be turned around for another road closure.

Snowy Highway 120 in Yosemite National Park

Another 2.5 hours driving back the way we came trying not to slide off the mountainside, we FINALLY made it to Yosemite by nightfall. I was so so relieved to get out of the snow safely, even though I still don’t know how we did, and we followed the winding cliff-lined roads into the campgrounds.

Foggy highway 140 into Yosemite

Even after we made it onto the only freeway open into Yosemite, it was still a trial to make it inside the park. From more car crashes to construction detours, it felt like the 10+ hours of driving that day had been completely made up of turnarounds. I never want to hear the word detour again.

Truck Crash in Yosemite National Park April 2017

Highway 140 into Yosemite

Half Dome in Yosemite National Park at Sunset

We only had about an hour of two of daylight left after arriving and finding a camping spot, so we wandered a couple of miles around the campgrounds and visitor center to see something at least. A day filled with snow and scares and storms had a glorious ending as the sun came out and painted the skies over Yosemite pastel colors. Surrounding you from all angles are enormous and uniquely shaped mountains and rock formations, and all of it was unbelievably beautiful. I wish we had more time, I could have explored Yosemite for a week at least.

Yosemite Falls in Yosemite National Park, California

The following morning before ending the road trip, we woke up early to hit a big hike up to the top of Yosemite falls. Given I was still sore from the Grand Canyon hike, I knew it’d be brutal. We trudged our way up the winding steep path 2,600 feet high, and with searing muscles, we made it to the top. And all of that work was well worth it. The views from the top of Upper Yosemite Falls are incredible to behold. Everywhere you look there were waterfalls or some famous peak. We had lunch on the side of the waterfall looking down over the entire park and snuck in a nap before hiking back down.

Hiking Upper Yosemite Falls

Road trip West Yosemite

Santa Cruz

Though there was a quick stop in San Francisco for a couple of days, it wasn’t too eventful. My first time there and I didn’t see the main sights! Instead, we caught up with Tijs’s friends, went out for drinks, and sang karaoke. Fun times either way, and at that point I think we just needed a break. So I will say the official end to the crazy road trip would be in Santa Cruz.

So I will declare the official end to the crazy road trip is Santa Cruz a couple days after returning the van.

I forgot just how beautiful it is to drive along the coast of California. It’s just…special. Endless coastline with a silver ocean crashing on the cliffs and rocks below as you snake along the coastal highway through small beach towns. Santa Cruz is where I parted ways with Tijs, who was continuing on to Monterey, but low funds meant I needed to head back to Los Angeles.

Road Trip West Photo of Santa Cruz

Road Trip West Photo of Santa Cruz

Road Trip West Photo of Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz really made me want to see more of California, especially these small coastal towns. Surfers hitting waves on a golden day. Sea lions playing under the pier. People relaxing on the beaches basking in the sun and reading. I haven’t seen much of California, but this small experience has me addicted and wanting to see more. It’s no wonder fellow bloggers like Kristen have told of their love for California. I’m not a native to the state like her and others, but I do think I could call it home someday.

Have you ever road tripped around the west before? What were your highlights?

5 Secrets to Exploring Los Angeles on a Budget

hollywood-sign

Los Angeles: the city of glamour, fame, and fortune. It can be a “hella” fun place to visit — but it can also bottom out your bank account if you aren’t careful.

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Traveling to Los Angeles? Then take note of these simple hacks to save money in the City of Angels. Some travelers come to LA expecting to spend tons of money on the clubs and clothes, and if that’s your intention for a vacation, fine. Splurge on the high-end restaurants and wax museums and “Star Sightings” buses.

Are you a backpacker or budget traveler? Then this guide is for you. If you want to take in all Los Angeles has to offer AND save mad moolah while doing it, here are some ways to make your dollar go the distance.

<< Hunt for Cheap Eats >>

FOOD TRUCKS/STALLS: Los Angeles streets are dotted with food vendors, food trucks, and carts that cater to the fatty in all of us, and also means there are plenty of cheap eats too. Get your nom on by eating at places along the streets you see construction workers and locals grabbing a bite. These are the food trucks and stalls that they eat at every day because they are cheap and tasty. Favorites — Los Angeles has amazing Mexican food, but also keep an eye out for fusions things like Spanish and Korean mix. Also, don’t forget about the quick-grab fruit stands that you usually see in Southeast Asia — they’re in LA too and still only $1-$2 for a bag of fruit.

FIND A FOOD TRUCK: Roaming Hunger Tracker

fruit-stand-la


MEAL DEALS: Like most cities around the US, even the glitzy restaurants sprinkling Los Angeles have specials too. Scout out the happy hours and meal specials before you arrive, or do a quick search for best happy hours in Los Angeles. There are 1/2 price burger nights, Taco Tuesdays, and Thirsty Thursdays abound and easily found. My favorite go to is Cabo Cantina on Tuesdays for all you can eat tacos and cheap beer.

One week, while testing how far I could stretch my budget, I went out with a friend and had dinner and drinks for under $10 each night. Here are some of the places we hit.

Monday’s at The Stand the deals is $1 hot dogs and $2 house Honey Blonde Ale, so we scoffing down some dogs and beers and moved on.

Tuesday in Santa Monica we went to All-You-Can-Eat Taco Tuesday at Cabo Cantina ($4.99) and ate until our bellies threatened to burst.

Friday night at Maui & Sons in Hollywood we hit happy hour and their $3 import beer deals.

<< Hit the Vintage Shops >>

The City of Angels is a bit grungy…but it’s also littered with good things like consignment shops, thrift stores, vintage clothing stores, and shops that sell wardrobes from movies.

What does that mean for you? Super cheap clothes. Get your hobo-chic on.

While wandering Hollywood, Santa Monica or Venice Beach, make sure to step into the numerous vintage clothing stores lining the streets to score some deals on clothes. Some places are just old-school digs, but others get all of the wicked cool props and costumes from studios that don’t need them anymore — even articles like jeans or leather jackets.

These shops around Los Angeles are packed with every era of style your heart might desire. I was short on warm clothing before my trip to New Zealand, so I stopped by a favorite of mine, Iguana Vintage Clothing in Hollywood, and scored an awesome Mexican poncho for only $10. It lasted me for years until someone stole it.

iguana-vintage-hollywood

<< Master the Metro >>

If you’re in Los Angeles with no car, you aren’t completely helpless. The Metro bus and rail system, like most of the US, isn’t top notch compared to some European and Asian countries, but it will take you where you need to be.

The Metro rail is a huge money saver. Grab an all day pass good for bus and metro for $5 and you can go most anywhere in the city. The buses come more often and more on time than cities like Washington DC, but don’t expect the Metro rail to follow suit.

Planning on some late nights out? Some buses in Hollywood run 24/7 every 30-60 minutes too.

Most places of interest around LA will have a bus stop or metro link to that destination. You can get to South Bay, Santa Monica Pier, Hollywood, China town, Venice beach and more all by bus or metro. If you’re a picky about taking buses and metro because the are dirty and grimy, get over it or spend loads on taxis and rental cars.

<< Budget Beds >>

While the United States isn’t very accommodating when it comes to backpacker style guesthouses and hostels, Los Angeles is one of the few spots that I’ve seen in the US that has them. There are a few around the city, one being a hostel located right in the heart of Hollywood. But the hostel that I’ve stayed at and loved was HiHostel just off of the 3rd Street Promenade. Here you can get away from the mayhem of the city and be just a few blocks away from the beach.

As always, some alternatives are AirBnB and Couchsurfing. Obviously the best budget choice is Couchsurfing, but remember that Los Angeles is a tourism epicenter and you’ll need to start looking far in advance. For AirBnB, just remember that peak season for summer and times when there are festivals or events, prices will hike.

<< Do Free Shit! >>

Everywhere you look, someone will be trying to sell you something in Los Angeles. Not like Southeast Asian countries, but take a stroll down Hollywood Boulevard and you’ll come out with a million flyers. Ignore all of the paid tours and cheesy attractions, because Los Angeles has amazing free things to do.

You have feet right? Then wander!

Los Angeles has a storied history from its rise by gang influence, to becoming the center of the entertainment world, to the eclectic and unique hippie culture that seems to be stuck in the 70’s.

SANTA MONICA: Hang out on the pier and watch a sunset or lay out on the beach all day. Go to the 3rd Street Promenade to people watch or enjoy a street performer.

VENICE: Gawk at the hippie RVs, fascinating weirdos, and street performers. Hang out in a pop-up drum circle on the beach, or take a stroll along the Venice Beach canals.

BETWEEN: All along the boardwalk from Santa Monica Beach to Venice, there is sometimes a festival or show going on like this car show I stumbled upon.

car-show-los-angeles

HOLLYWOOD: Walk the streets night or day and fight the crowds while following the stars. You don’t need a car to get to the Hollywood sign, just follow a maps app and you can walk there. Head up to the Griffith Observatory, opened in 1935, to have the best view of LA from above, and attend a stargazing night that they put on during the week.

PACIFIC COAST HIGHWAY: This you’ll need a car for, so let’s hope you have friends. The PCH is one of the most beautiful drives in the world, so pack a lunch and drive all day up the coast and back.

HIKING: You’ll also need a ride for this, but there is some incredible hiking opportunities just outside of downtown Los Angeles. Santa Monica Mountains and Malibu Creek are national parks close by the city where you can spend all day trekking on and off trails through the rugged landscape taking in the views of the mountains like these below.

<< Getting there >>

Getting to and from the City of Angels can be pretty freakin’ cheap…IF you give effort and search for deals. Los Angeles is a hotspot for domestic and international travel, and being that Mother Nature decides to stay beautiful for majority of the year, it’s always busy. Even with that, there are so many flights coming and going from LAX that airlines are competing for the lowest fare.

Give yourself a few months in advance to look for tickets for flights and trains, and get on a mailing list for airfare alerts when prices drop. Southwest, Virgin, US Airways, and American are the most popular airlines. I’ve personally flown to Los Angeles from DC for $150, but it depends on your timing. If you’re already in the United States, get on AirFare Watchdog and you can schedule alerts for price drops when they happen for the best deal possible.

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<< What are your budget travel secrets in major cities? >>

 

 

In Photos: The Most Beautiful Coastlines around the World

Whether it be watching gentle waves roll softly in on a beach, or admiring a sunset that glistens across a silver ocean like a million diamonds, or being awe-struck at the fierce and frothing water crashing relentlessly against cliffs after a storm — there is something mystifying about a coastline. It’s as if you stand at the edge of the world staring out into an infinite expanse of blue.

I scoured my hard-drives for for the most beautiful coastlines around the world from my travels including images from Thailand, Haiti, Canada, and the United States.

Enjoy!

THAILAND

Me on Koh Phi Phi looking out at Loh Dalum Bay.

Koh Phi Phi Le and the location of “The Beach” from just over the crest of our longtail boat.

Loh Dalum Bay at low-tide.

Want to see more of Thailand? Head over here!

CANADA

A lonely pony swing looking out over the coast of Norfolk County.

The inlet coast of St. John’s Newfoundland as the sun sets.

Looking out over dark green pines at the Atlantic ocean from a trek new Gros Morne National Park in Newfoundland.

Cape Spear lighthouse keeping a watchful eye for sailors on the coast of Newfoundland near St. John’s.

View from the Skyline trail in Nova Scotia.

Pastel sunset and the silhouette of Rocky Harbor lighthouse in Gros Morne National Park, Newfoundland.

Want to see more of Canada? Head over here!

NEW ZEALAND

Doubtless Bay and Cooper’s Beach in the far north of New Zealand.

The rocky coastline around Wellington.

Looking out over Christchurch on the South Island.

Bright blue water seen from Mt. Maunganui, Tauranga.

The small town of Bay of Islands in the north of New Zealand.

The waring coastline of Cape Reinga in the Northland, where the sea and ocean me, clashing for all of time.

Weiheke Island outside of Auckland, the island of wine.

Want to see more of New Zealand? Head over here!

HAITI

Jagged coastline before reaching Labadee.

A friend meditates before the bright ocean at Belly Beach, Labadee, Haiti.

A warm morning sun radiates over the mountains near Belly Beach, Labadee.

Want to see more of Haiti on the blog? Head over here!

 

UNITED STATES

A cream-sickle colored sunset and a yogi on the cliffs outside of San Diego.

From the train pulling into northern California at dusk.

Want to see more of the United States on the blog? Head over here!

Love being on the coast? Which photo was your favorite?

Weekly Photo: Surfing in the fiery sunset in San Diego

 

Before my trip to Southeast Asia, I had a chance to spend a few days exploring San Diego. I had been a couple of times before, but usually just for a day or so, or I was staying just outside the city.

One night I decided to walk to the beach to catch a sunset, and it was one of the most beautiful ones I’ve ever experienced. The smoldering sun sank deeper into the silver horizon, the slow lapping waves reflecting its last bit of fiery reign for the day. Out in the small cresting waves, silhouettes of surfers bobbed up and down hoping for one last finale, one last ride across the rippling silver. A tired surfer retired for the day. Distant clouds split the sun as it descended, each time hiding it briefly until it peaked through again defiantly shining bright once more. And then it was gone.

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Feel like spreading some travel inspiration?! Feel free to share this sunset from San Diego below!

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Weekly Photo Mojo is about stimulating your cortex with retina rupturing and awe-inspiring photos from around the world to help you reach Terminal Vicariosity (The point where the mind reaches maximum capacity from living vicariously through someone else, and chooses to start actually living.)

What feeling does this photo evoke for you?

In Photos: The Favorite Places to Relax Around the World

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Life on the road can be a daunting and sweaty and blistered affair. Perpetual movement can take its toll on the body, mind, and soul  — always on to the next destination or next place to drop your 30+lb backpack. But along that endless horizon unfolding before you, there are places that you come across that makes you just go, “I want to relax here for a bit.”

This weeks #Frifotos travel photo theme is “relax” and though I don’t partake in this often, there are so many places I’ve found that cause me to halt wherever I am going and stay for a while.

Here are my favorite places that I have kicked up the trusty ole’ chucks for a bit of time to recuperate my energy and to take in the moment.

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Occasionally, a moment calls for laying on your back and relaxing under the clouds. Or pretending to walk on them.

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Occasionally, I like to kick-it with Honest Abe, or other monuments around the world.

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Relaxing on the edge of a waterfall, the spray of the water misting upward and cooling me off on a hot day in New Zealand.

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In a meadow overlooking Auckland as the long grass sways in the wind.

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How about a little “chillaxing” at an Ice Bar in Auckland, New Zealand?

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Though cities can be hectic, a park can be an escape — and even a relaxing spot in a tree can be bliss. I found this peaceful escape in the heart of Auckland away from the business district!

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Another favorite: an ice-cold beer at an outside bar in Wellington, New Zealand.

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And then moving over to the Wellington Harbor for a bit more relaxation by the water.

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Most people like owning fish because they are relaxing to watch, I just go to the local aquarium. (Kelly Tarlton’s in Auckland)

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With the roar of the ocean and the wind carrying the salty smell up the cliffs, this is definitely a perfect spot to stop. Cape Reinga, New Zealand.

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Sunsets on a rocky harbor at a place uniquely named “Rocky Harbor” in Newfoundland, Canada.

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Sometimes hanging out on the edge of the world with sheer cliffs dropping off to a watery grave is a good spot. Really though, Cape Spear in Newfoundland Canada was seriously relaxing.

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Going back to my childhood when imagination and fantasy ruled, and my treehouse was the best damn thing ever. What about an adult treehouse hotel? Yeah, right? There might not be a cooler place to relax.

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Chucks on a boat! Any boat for that matter can make me fall asleep with the gentle rocking and the sound of the waves.

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Watching the changing scenery pass by on a cross-country train adventure is something I could do all day.

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And yet, all of these places can be improved by one of my favorite methods of relaxing — hammock time. And hammock time in a bungalow in Koh Phi Phi, Thailand was marvelous.

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Though sometimes the chucks need to be kicks off and forgotten when you find a private hidden cove in the north of New Zealand.  Long grass whispering in the wind, the sun shining, the waves crashing, and the sway of the hammock. Relaxation at its finest.

*If you like this post, come check out my friend who inspired me to do this post — Derek of The Holidaze and his favorite places to relax!*

What are some of your favorite places or methods to relax? Share below!

Amtrak Across America Day 3: Seeing Clearly

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Another day on the cold steel road, more lessons. The third day of my Amtrak train adventure across America taught me about life in a timeline, and why you should take advantage of every moment.


It was through hazy grey-blue eyes that I felt as though I could travel through most of the history of the United States.

Marge, with those time traveling cloud-like eyes which matched the color of her knit sweater, told in her sweet yet lively voice of days long past.

Long past and disappearing. She smiled, possibly reminiscing about a love of her life once upon a time. Or maybe some trip she had taken in her reckless youth that stoked up a small fire in memory.

Like the trip I was on.

Everything is disappearing so fast. But I do remember some things. The important things. The things that matter the most. It’s never the moments of everyday life you remember when your 80

After she revealed that she had just turned 80 a week prior, I marveled at her sprightliness.

Though the wrinkles in her skin could trace through a long-lived and storied life, her energy was young and her voice was strong.

That’s what it’s about. Doing things worth remembering.” I said.

Over matching spinach omelets we talked. A young lad who has lived through cartoons about infinity and beyond and the fall of human interaction was sharing stories with a young soul who had lived through a World War which brought a nation together, and NASA actually reaching infinity and beyond.

My mother and father were born in the late 1800’s. As a little girl they told me about horse and buggies. About the First World War and the second one. I lived through us reaching the moon and the invention of the television.

You know you’ve truly lived when you think about all of that stuff.

It’s a shame the nation stopped dreaming big.” I said.

Yes, there are so many values we have forgotten in time, so many things that brought us to amazing heights as a people.” She said.

So many things we have forgotten.

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Our waiter Kevin, mid 40’s with a white buzz haircut and a helluva’ cheeky personality, came by the table and interrupted our meaning of life ponderings.

So what do you think those brown cows think about this while BLACK Angus beef craze?!

The dining car erupted in laughter. This guy was one of the big reasons I love train travel. Because the love it. But I was also thinking now about how far away that steak I might eat at a restaurant comes, and how much work the people out here whom we never think about do.

I never expected to be uncovering lost values of a nation, or discovering things I have forgotten over time, or take for granted each day.

The night before I had left my window shades open in that space capsule like sleeper purposely to be woken up at sunrise. And just as I had hoped, the sights outside my window were worth waking to slithering through North Dakota. Reminiscent of 1960’s upholstery, the United States was dressed in green, orange, and yellow brush as far as the eye could see.

Though, as I mentioned earlier, it wouldn’t be only different views visually that would captivate me.

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It was good to be outside again, though it was much colder than the last time I was off that train. The train hissed and chugged while cigarettes of desperate smokers lit up quick.

I don’t have much time left on this earth, but from what I see in this country is a damn shame.

I overheard an older white-haired man talking with the Amtrak attendant while on a rest stop in Milot.

He looked down at the ground with somber glassy eyes shaking his head.

Every other first world country out there has a few main focuses. Transportation, mainly rail. Education. Healthcare. They know that those are the backbone of the country. That it matters for the people who live there.

He had flicked each finger up fiercely to exaggerate each of the three points.

In the US, we’ve been trained to embrace speed and noise. We miss out on everything now. We miss out on the journey in life. We are racing toward death. We fly to get from place to place as fast as possible while being treated like sacks of potatoes on airlines.

He bent over to rub his aged knees, most likely from the brisk North Dakota air.

Just speed and noise, the enemy of life.

The Amtrak attendant shook his head agreeing with the statements made.

And this is why I work for Amtrak…

Later in the afternoon I sat writing all of the days conversations in my journal.

As the ink swirled in cursive along the paper, those conversations set in deep.

The sun hung at 3 O’clock in the sky with the Empire Builder pushing deeper into the plains of North Dakota. Silver pools polka-dotted reed marshes outside the window reflecting cotton ball clouds.

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In moments like these, it is hard to decipher what is upside down and what is right side up. Reality becomes obscured. But in moments where the sky and the clouds blur together with the earth and the water into an infinite symmetry, does it matter?

I was on an adventure, and even though I was nervous and feeling a tad bit turned upside down myself, I was leaving the speed and noise behind. I was listening to the people and sopping up Mother Natures juicy sights like a sponge.

It felt like I was doing something important.

A couple of hours after we had left Milot through the golden plans, silver pools, and puffy clouds, I attended my first ever wine tasting.

And of course I expected it to be pretentious.

Tons of people I know love to go to wine tastings. They love to dress up, sit down, be served a puny amount of wine. They love to swirl it around, snort the aroma into their nostrils as they sip loudly bit by bit. And then they spit it out into a bucket like a California rancher with chewing tobacco.

Pwwwwwting!

The only time I’d go through that much effort to try something would be for whiskey. But I’ve been to whiskey tastings. They give me a full shot, and they never ask me to spit it out…

The dining cart filled up with what would later be described by a lady much older than myself as the geriatric herd. I laughed awkwardly, but it did feel as though I was the youngest in the room by 40 years at least. And it was amusing to me about all of the stares I got from said geriatric herb wondering why a young buck was crashing their wine tasting.

Jim and Dorothy entered the dining car, commanding attention of the eager sniffers and sippers with wine bottles from around the region. And even though wine would normally be a bore, the extensive knowledge each knew about the wine itself and their enthusiasm was surprisingly captivating.

They poured each wine and told us all of the fun tidbits and unique traits of each, but I was there for a buzz and the cheese.

I freakin’ love cheese.

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And as everyone tasted each, I heard no snorting or slipping. As I tried each, I was shamefully enjoying the whole experience. You can be damn sure I was the first to dive into the cheeses too since everyone else was too polite to make the first move.

For the chardonnay, one was floral and crisp and you could smell the rose. The other, dangerously buttery and smooth. For the pinot noir, one had sweet cherry and chocolate flavor, with the other having more of a light sip and after bite.

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And I cannot believe I just described my wine to you…but I had unexpectedly enjoyed the whole experience. Jim toward the end auctioned off nearly 10 bottles of wine. With their years, those wine tasting older whipper-snappers beat me in trivia knowledge as well.

Another small ignorance shattered.

And meet me at a pub quiz sometime for round two! 

The sun sank sadder into the horizon giving the landscape a stark melancholy feel. Bare and gnarled skeleton trees clawed at the white-washed sky. We were passing through the badlands. The wind-swept monochrome plains were broken up by scars in the ground sprouting out armies for the same twisted trees and I fell asleep staring as it all passed by.

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When I awoke in the twilight before pitch night, my disorientation took off to new heights after looking at my clock and not understanding how it was the same exact time as when I had fallen asleep.

The clocks had set back an hour since daylight savings ended, and the clocks traveled further back two hours passing through North Dakota.

As I gazed out my window when we pulled into an unknown station, a small spot illuminated by a dim street light shown a foot of snow on a lonely bench. The feeling was dreamlike and surreal, as if I was traveling through different earthly planes.

The large snowflakes fell slowly, dancing in the lap light like a waltz as they descended and I imagined the song of a wind up music box would be fitting.

Lights and glimpses of snow flashed by as we passed through small blanketed towns. It was slow-moving and quiet. I was away from the speed and the noise. I was alone but didn’t feel lonely.

I was pondering life, and all of those conversations I listened to during the day again.

I was doing something I’d remember when I’m 80, something that might make me smile in my later fleeting years. I was traveling through the forgotten lands of the United States on the forgotten yet romantic way of travel. The train.

I was experiencing different ways of life all the while on the path to change my own. I was seeing reality through cloud-like eyes, and glassy somber eyes, and the eyes of the passionate train conductors.

I was on a journey uncovering the world and my hidden self.

I was on my way.

Like this story? Get caught up on all of the other days on this gnarly train adventure across the United States!

READ DAY 1: Closure.

READ – DAY 2: Discovery.

READ – Ginos East vs. Giordanos: A Deep Dish Love Affair

**DISCLOSURE** I was not financially compensated for this post. I received a free trip courtesy of Amtrak Blog for review purposes. The opinions, photos, videos, and use of the word “gnarly” are completely my own based on my experience.