ONE YEAR LATER: Nomadic Life, California Style

It’s July 14th, which means that we’ve now been doing this full-time camper life thing for a whopping 365 days!

To quickly recap, we’ve settled in something like 15 different states and made 43 new “homes on the road” over the past year. In some ways, it seems like the time has flown by. But in other ways, it feels like I’ve been living this life for way longer. Starting with the east coast, moving across the south, and finally up the west coast, we’ve been moving slow and staying in each place a couple weeks. Seven of these 12 months were spent in our little pop-up with canvas walls, and then the last five months have been in Dragoon, our upgraded Class-A RV.

On the day we left Atlanta last July, we really didn’t plan on being on the road for this long. Originally, the grand plan was to spend a few months traveling around and then pick a place to plop down “somewhere out west.” Well, we haven’t picked out that magical western place, but we sure have seen a lot by carrying on with this whole nomad thing for longer than expected.

We’ve never set a time limit or a goal for how long this adventure would last. But at this point, it feels the new normal, and it looks like camper life is here to stay for a while. In fact, we’ve already thrown out ideas for where to possibly end next spring and summer.

Camper life isn’t that glamorous stuff you see on Instagram (I still don’t understand Instagram). For someone like me with a restless spirit, living in a new place every few weeks makes me feel alive and satisfies my relentless curiosity. It’s easy to keep up with my work on the road, and I’m fortunate enough to have a husband and dog who are on-board with all of this as well.

But the lifestyle can also feel draining, lonely, claustrophobic, and even dull after a while. I don’t see the purpose of sugar-coating it, but I’m also not unappreciative of my opportunity to try this out for a while. But even with the ups and downs, it sure as hell beats arbitrarily plopping down somewhere just because “that’s what people do.” Twelve months later, I would still choose this lifestyle over something more stationary. After all, there’s plenty of time to do that later if nothing more interesting comes along. But I suspect that something will 🙂


Here’s a recap of this past month’s batch of “homes on the road”:

Gilroy, California: Home on the Road #41 (continued from last month)

  • Highlights: Winery in walking distance of our campground where we met the owners and were invited to stay for a home-cooked dinner and basketball game viewing party, hiking through caves with flashlights at Pinnacles National Park, adult swim hours at the campground pool, finally found some light jackets for unpredictable Bay Area weather, seeing a Bollywood movie (thankfully with subtitles) in a theater
  • Lowlights: Sucking at golf pretty badly, missing out on visiting a friend before leaving Santa Cruz, quickly killing a mini rose plant, failed attempts at airing up the RV tires (have since bought our own portable air compressor to be self-sufficient)


Oakland, California: Home on the Road #42

  • Highlights: Trying a Hawaiian poke bowl for the first time and discovering it lives up to the hype, putting in a record number of friend and family visits, amazingly spacious campsite with eucalyptus trees and wild turkeys, some rare chill-out/do-nothing time, checking out the SF Pride Festival, seeing the places where my husband grew up, seeing the utility pole gnomes of Oakland still up and in-tact, a fun 4th of July with friends
  • Lowlights: Awfully long and twisty/turny drive to get anywhere from our campground, super challenging to find decent WiFi, trying to bike the insane hills of San Francisco, a bad dog boarding experience at Wag Hotels, two weeks of rib pain/ab soreness from flying on a trapeze


Napa, California: Home on the Road #43 (in progress)

  • Highlights: Decent campground at the expo center in town and in walking distance of downtown, Day trip to Calistoga with hot springs/massage/petrified forest, geyser, bike paths/lanes to get around, good doggie day care experience at Camp Rawhide
  • Lowlights: Traffic – everywhere and all the time, way too many wineries – how does anyone choose which one to go to???, not much hiking close by


“TOP 5” LISTS OF THINGS AND STUFF

To celebrate our one-year anniversary of living on the road, I’m doing something a bit different this month. Instead of my usual section of ramblings, I’m making a few “Top 5” lists. Limiting each list to 5 will really make me narrow things down and not get too annoyingly wordy like I tend to do. Besides, everybody likes lists, right?

Things I Like About Camper Life

  1. Never being bored
  2. Exploring potential areas to move to one day
  3. Being about to do my job just like I would sitting in an apartment somewhere
  4. Choosing to be in places with nice weather
  5. Easy access to nature and adventure activities

Things I Dislike About Camper Life

  1. Paying for fuel in the gas-guzzling RV
  2. Close quarters and shantytown-like conditions next to campground neighborhoods
  3. High cost of campsites in ideal locations
  4. Lack of reliable internet, a deal-breaker for remote working
  5. The exhaustion of constantly doing travel research

Things I Miss About Stationary Life 

  1. Drinking drinks with good friends on the regular
  2. Consistent Wi-Fi access
  3. Easy travel for holidays with family
  4. All my gnomes (now tucked away in storage)
  5. Easily doing arts and crafts

Things That Set Us Apart from Other Full-Time Campers 

  1. We’re not old
  2. We work full-time jobs
  3. Half of us isn’t white
  4. Free camping isn’t a priority
  5. We’re not big fans of people

Common Research Topics in New Places (pardon me while I break the 5-limit rule)

  1. Hiking trails
  2. Biking trails
  3. Comedy shows
  4. Bar trivia
  5. Local theater
  6. Dog-friendly breweries
  7. Wineries/distilleries
  8. Community rec centers
  9. Concerts
  10. Dance classes
  11. Driving ranges/golf courses
  12. Disc golf courses
  13. Arcade bars
  14. Archery ranges
  15. Dog daycare facilities
  16. Cafes with Wi-Fi to work at
  17. Neighborhoods to check out
  18. Dog parks
  19. Festivals
  20. Climbing gyms

Most Frustrating Moments

  1. Not being able to get internet reception/Wi-Fi
  2. Unreasonable pit bull bans
  3. RV sewer leakages
  4. Ant, moth, and other insect infestations in the camper
  5. Learning to drive an RV towing a jeep on treacherous roads

Things that Have Surprised Me About Camper Life

  • How easily I’ve adjusted to the lifestyle and how normal it feels (i.e. daily routines, eating/drinking/exercising the same as I would in a stationary place, the same things stress me out/piss me off)
  • I have become more introverted
  • After seeing so many new things over the past year, I’m not as easily impressed
  • I have become exhausted with travel planning
  • Even with more “me time” than I’ve ever had before, I still struggle to find time to do hobbies, chill out, etc.

Plants I’ve Grown (decently) in a Camper

  1. Cactus
  2. Succulent
  3. Begonias
  4. Orchids
  5. Mint

Favorite Areas from the First Year 

  1. Moab, Utah
  2. Red River Gorge, Kentucky
  3. San Diego, California
  4. Asheville, North Carolina
  5. Ensenada, Baja California, Mexico

Regions I’d Consider Plopping Down at for a Bit

  1. Santa Barbara, California
  2. Albuquerque, New Mexico
  3. San Luis Obispo, California
  4. Tucson, Arizona
  5. Salt Lake City, Utah

Daily Routines 

  1. 4 Monkey walks per day, alternating 2 per person
  2. Morning yoga in the RV
  3. Texting with my best friend throughout the day about anything and everything
  4. 8+ hour work days
  5. Guitar practice (not exactly daily but working on it)

Biggest Life Changes Since the Camper Upgrade 

  1. Not having to walk across a campground to pee in the middle of the night after one too many beers
  2. Avoiding the nastiness and awkwardness of public bathrooms
  3. Driving shorter distances from one place to the next because driving an RV is exhausting
  4. An extra monthly payment to budget for
  5. Being able to withstand more extreme temperatures/storms

How Monkey Has Made Camper Life Interesting 

  1. We’re always looking for dog-friendly places and restricted as to where we can do with her
  2. Way too many unwanted social interactions because of her extreme friendliness
  3. Keeps us on a schedule of waking up early…ugh
  4. Gives us something to focus on besides each other, ideal for a 24/7 confined space
  5. A steady source of entertainment (twirling!) and frustration (pulling!)


Looking Ahead to Next Month

We’ll be in Napa for a little while more, and I’m excited to re-visit one of my gnome collector friends that lives in Santa Rosa. LOTS of gnome pics coming up soon, so gettttttttttt readyyyyyyyyyyyyy!

From here, we’re headed to the coast to check out Mendocino and Fort Bragg. It’s pretty hot out here in Cali, so we figured the coast is the place to be as long as the campgrounds aren’t insanely overpriced. Things are a little up in the air after that, but it’ll all be figured out in due time.

But for now, it’s time to go track down some wine and celebrate this random little anniversary of ours. Thanks for following along for the past year and keeping me accountable to continue putting together these monthly recaps!

 

Catch up with the journey:

Half a Year on the Road! A Six-Month Camper Life Update

It’s a new year in a new state, but the journey continues in 2017!

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Month #6 has been a weird month. It was holiday month, which means that everything was thrown off a bit – but in a good way. It’s also been the longest we’ve stayed put in one place so far.

Places We’ve Been: Month #6

Month #6 started finished up our stay in Tuscon and then we moved up to Phoenix. A while back, we had booked flights to travel from Phoenix to Champaign, Illinois to visit my family for Christmas. So everything leading up to this moment had to work around the flight schedule.

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Since Monkey’s too big to fly, we had to board her, but did so at the best pet resort we could find in Phoenix called Tailwinds. For Christmas, we spent a few days in my hometown or Arthur, seeing family and friends and doing little-to no work. We had a Monkey to get back to in Phoenix, but our flight was cancelled due to FOG of all things. We’d packed extra food for Monkey in case of emergency, but were still anxious to collect her. So my parents graciously drove us the complete opposite direction to Indianapolis to catch the next flight out in the morning.

The Indy flight went as planned and we made it back to Phoenix, then drove to Las Vegas the same day. So in a 24-hour period, we lived in four time zones: Central, Eastern, Mountain, and Pacific. Totally exhausting, but we got Monkey back and got rave reviews about her behavior (and even a report card!).

Here’s a quick recap of this past month’s batch of “homes on the road”:

Phoenix, Arizona: Home on the Road #27

  • Highlights: Having dinner with my old co-worker, Maria, for her husband’s birthday bash, hot tub at the fanciest Motel 6 I’ve ever seen, short hikes around town

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  • Lowlights: Getting a traffic cone stuck under the Jeep and nearly starting a fire on the highway because of it, having to leave Monkey behind at a “pet resort” while we got on a plane

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Arthur, Illinois : Home on the Road #28

  • Highlights: Hanging out with my parents, grandma & extended family, seeing a couple of my favorite people from high school, meeting our mutual friends’ new baby, seeing “Moana” with my parents, eating at a really good Mexican restaurant that popped up in my hometown since I left, impromptu trip to Indianapolis

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  • Lowlights: Having our flight out of Champaign cancelled at the last minute, having to ask my parents to drive us to Indianapolis

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Las Vegas, Nevada: Home on the Road #29

  • Highlights: Fun pre-NYE day on The Strip, Cirque Du Soleil show that was impressive but made me feel fat and lazy, first NYE celebration with Monkey in the camper to ring in 2017, Valley of Fire State Park hiking

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  • Lowlights: Flat camper tire and cracked windshield on the drive to Vegas, Homeless people lurking around our campground and the staff doesn’t care, dental visit, crowded parking lot-style campground, no Wi-Fi

Random Ramblings: Month #6

In no particular order, these are some random thoughts that came to me over the course of month #6 on the road.

  • I’m obsessed with podcasts. I listen to them while walking the dog, doing dishes, washing up in the bathroom, etc. They really get me through the day. Ones I’ve been listening to lately: This American Life, Snap Judgement, Undone, Stranglers, The RV Entrepreneur with Heath Padgett, Lore, The Moth, Radio Lab, Hidden Brain. New podcast suggestions welcome…hit me up!
  • Motel stays make me feel really appreciative of the little things in life. Like not having to walk across a campground to pee in the middle of the night when I’ve had 3+ beers. They’re even better when they have a hot tub, especially after a long day of hiking. Campgrounds with hot tubs are awesome too.

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  • I really have no desire to live in a place with frigid winter temperatures ever again. These snowbirds have the right idea, but stealing the idea shouldn’t require Medicare eligibility.
  • I’m super appreciative of my parents. Understandably, they were skeptical about this whole camper life thing at first. But I’ve never really been a daughter to follow all the rules. Them driving us to Indy on Christmas day night was a lifesaver. I’m seriously lucky to have them. Too bad it too me so long to realize it.
  • I can’t stand being around other campers. The second I walk outside to use the bathroom in the morning, there are people all around me. I’m feeling claustrophobic by the close proximity of campers and drained by the constant sight of human beings. (1) Old retirees with nothing better to do than chat, (2) families with kids that have no regard for anyone but themselves, and (3) homeless riff-raff lurking around campgrounds when the staff doesn’t care are really getting to me. Friends always ask me about cool people I’ve met on the trip. The honest answer is none. Admittedly, I’m in an introverted phase of life and not putting myself out there. But honestly, that’s not what travel is about for me right now and I have no regrets.

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  • This month was a BIG time for repairs. The camper needed a new tire, the Jeep needed a sensor repair and a new windshield, the husband needed hardcore dental surgery, and the dog needed yearly shots at the vet, and I needed a routine dental cleaning. Somehow this all snuck up on us at once. But it just goes to show that you don’t need to be grounded in a place to get all the practical things in life taken care of.
  • Cities are making me feel claustrophobic. Most strangers seem like an entirely different species, I’m becoming a worse driver, and stupid things make me anxious. I’m hoping to find some quiet coastal towns in California.
  • Vegas is the longest we’ve stayed anywhere so far on this trip – 19 days! Not because we are in love with Vegas, but due to so many appointments and practical things piling up all at once. At least there were plenty of distractions to take our minds off them at the end of the day.

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  • I don’t like the format of these blog posts I’ve been doing, but I can’t think of a better way to structure them.
  • We looked into upgrading the camper and would seriously love to, but I don’t think it’s going to work right now. Mostly because a two-door jeep has embarrassingly low towing capacity, so a camper upgrade would mean a vehicle upgrade too. Looked at A-Liners, which were nice (especially ones with an in-camper toilet and solid walls!), but they’re not enough of an upgrade to justify the investment right now.
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  • This is my dream house.
  • It was nice to be able to take holiday time off like the rest of the traditional working world this year. This is always an awkward time as a freelancer, but things finally slowed down for me and I finally got some much-needed chill time.
  • Also as a freelancer, I have to keep track of every invoice and pay quarterly taxes, which is a huge pain in the ass. However, I made more this year than ever in life. So many full time travelers hate on freelance writing as a way to make money but clearly they aren’t doing it right. This is something I feel really proud of since 2017 is my 4th year of freelancing!
  • I am obsessed with self-serve frozen yogurt.

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  • The best reason that has come up so far for calling it quits on camper life is international travel. I feel like I’ve seen so much (but obviously not all) of this country, but so little of the rest of the world. Simply flying to Illinois for Christmas taught us how difficult the logistics are of finding a dog sitter, Jeep parking, camper parking, transportation, etc. After six months, I’m feeling the itch for international travel. This makes me amendable to finding a place to rent (somewhere) for a year so we can plop down and get slightly established so we can catch a flight to bust of America soon. This will likely be the one thing that makes me call it quits on camper life, at least for a while.
  • Valley of Fire State Park renewed my faith in Nevada hiking trails after several disappointments…what an incredible place with something different to see on every trail!img_3014
  • Everywhere I turn these days, I seem to come across a #vanlife post or some other young couple’s Instagram-perfect photos of full-time travel. I am mildly obsessed with creepily stalking other full-time campers to see what they’re up to and judging myself against my better judgment. It feels like this movement is gaining momentum, but perhaps I’m just seeking it out. But unlike so many of these other couples essentially doing what we’re doing, I’m not into going full publicity over it or trying to make money from it. That’s not my style, and I’m already stretched too thin. Also, my husband is a private person and I respect his wishes to not include his photo or name on my blog. I also have no desire to reinvent the wheel here or project an image that everything about this lifestyle is perfect. It’s not, and it pisses me off from time to time just like any lifestyle would. I’m being me, being real, and sharing my experiences as creative outlet rather than a means of self-promotion. Thanks for being along for the ride.

Looking Ahead to Month #7

TOMORROW, we’re celebrating our 6th month “full-time camper life anniversary” by crossing over the California state line and dry camping in Mojave National Preserve. This means no reservations, no electric, no internet, and only backup tank water…but hopefully some amazing scenery and hikes.

After that, we’re heading to the Palm Springs area of California, which will be totally new to me. But I will say though that California campgrounds are looking pretty expensive so far. I’m a newbie at pretty much all things Southern California, so I’m definitely excited to spend a good amount of time here. Please send any SoCal recommendations my way!

Cheers!

Catch Up on the Journey:

Month #3 on the Road: A Full-Time Camper Life Update!

Today marks three months of life on the road…and finishing month #3 strong in this tiny camper home with the spouse and pup!

Unlike lots of other solo travelers and couples doing the full-time travel thing that I keep up with, my blog here is just a hobby and a personal outlet. Although a monthly update is about all I can manage with my work my schedule, it’s still something I’m holding myself accountable to on the 14th of each month. And BTW, work is going great…never a dull moment!

Places We’ve Been: Month #3

Month #3 marked a huge transition for this camper journey and a big move from the east to the west. After spending time just along the East Coast so far, we made a quick stop back where it all began (Atlanta) to swap out gear from the storage unit and put in some social visits. Now we’ve moved on to the West/Southwest and will be here for the foreseeable future!

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Here’s a quick recap of this past month’s batch of “homes on the road”:

  • Charlotte, North Carolina: Home on the Road #14
    • Highlights: Last kayaking & SUPing of the season at Lake Wylie, discovering Lucky Dog Bark & Brew (off-leash dog park + craft beer bar!), campfire storytelling
    • Lowlights: Police shooting riots downtown

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  • Atlanta, Georgia: Home on the Road #15
    • Highlights: Taco dinner & great conversation with my BFF, hiking up & camping at Stone Mountain, stocking up on Indian sweets for Navratri
    • Lowlights: Navigating all the excess stuff in our storage unit and wondering why we kept it

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  • Morrilton, Arkansas & Amarillo, Texas: “Passing Through” Homes on the Road #16 & 17
    • Highlights: Hotel stays to treat ourselves after 8+ hours of driving per day, nice trail behind the Amarillo hotel, soup on the side of the road, free Wi-Fi and breakfast!
    • Lowlights: Getting nauseous trying to work on a laptop in the passenger seat

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  • Albuquerque, New Mexico: Home on the Road #18
    • Highlights: Finally checked out the International Hot Air Balloon Fiesta, new alpaca sweater and hats, scenic dog park, started biking again – feels great to be back on a bike!
    • Lowlights: Weather prevented the balloons from launching on the one and only morning we had in ABQ, no dogs allowed at the festival

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  • Cortez, Colorado: Home on the Road #19
    • Highlights: 2 weeks in one place, Mesa Verde, Canyons of the Ancients, Southwest hikes & landscapes, very comfortable town with pretty much everything I want, went to yoga and belly dancing (first ever!) classes, got a good haircut, fall festival in Dolores, boarded Monkey at doggie day care for the first time and that went ok
    • Lowlights: Low of 27-degrees at night with no good camper insulation, annoying locals, not many dog-friendly businesses

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Realizations & Ramblings: Month #3

In no particular order, these are some random thoughts that came to me over the course of month #3 on the road.

  • The East Coast was nice but isn’t long-term for me. I felt ready to leave it and head west.
  • Weather really affects my mood, motivation, and how I spend my days while living outdoors – Cortez has been full of sunshine 🙂
  • Clotheslines are incredibly useful in a campsite – especially if you’re by a beach or doing water sports and trying to avoid a mildew infestation.

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  • I love camping next to trails and have been trying to get into trail running, slowly but surely.
  • Despite all the new environments, I haven’t really gotten sick on this trip so far. Yay! But my immune system gets run down every once in a while with symptoms of a headache and a sore throat. Fortunately, it’s been going away within a day.
  • Bag salads with toppings and dressings are my favorite semi-healthy lunch.

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  • This lifestyle reinforces my lack of attachment to places.
  • The social interactions that every other travel blogger talks about being the “best part of travel” still mean very little to me. Random encounters bring me anxiety, annoyance, and disinterest. Perhaps it’s a phase. Or maybe just me getting older and working/living remotely for so long. Either way, I’m cool with it. And I feel like someone needs to share the perspective of how introverted long-term travel can be just as fulfilling, if not more.
  • Hotel stays are a fun occasional treat – especially after long driving days.

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  • We played a fun storytelling game one night that was really fun. It goes like this: Tear up pieces of paper and on each one, write (a) characters, (b) characters’ goals, and (c) an obstacle to characters’ goals. Randomly draw one piece from each category pile. Grab a small notebook and Person #1 writes one page to start the story. Person #2 only gets to read the very last sentence of what Person #1 wrote and then keeps the story going with one more page. Go back and forth 3 times and then read your story aloud at the campfire. Our story involved a park ranger who dreamed of making the best grilled cheese sandwich ever but had debilitating social anxiety.

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  • For the first time on this trip, we stayed somewhere more than a week: Cortez. We really need more than a week to get beyond the tourist highlights and get into a good work groove to discover local stuff. It’s nice to get to a point of comfort in a new place where I can do normal things like get a haircut, go to a yoga class, and try belly dancing for the first time (hip scarves are hot).
  • Small decorations for fall make the camper feel more festive for the season.

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  • I enjoy the hassle-free lifestyle of small towns but the anonymity of larger cities.
  • Playing disc golf with a dog is impossible – never again!
  • I have no idea how to dress for fall. Living most of my life in Illinois, hot summer basically turned into cold winter before I had a chance to think about fall clothes. I went shopping for some layered outdoor wear, but I still struggle with what to put on myself when it’s in the 60’s. I’m open to advice on this one!

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  • Desert landscapes make me feel peaceful.
  • Chief Surfs with Manatees, my Jeep, hit 88,888 miles (now over 91K) and is still going strong!

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Looking Ahead to Month #4

Month #4 will continue our exploration of the West in Colorado and Utah. We’re skipping the familiar parts of Colorado that we already know and sticking to the southwestern part of the state between Cortez and Grand Junction.

Other than an epic canyoneering trip in Zion a few years ago, Utah will be totally new to me. So I’m definitely looking forward to checking out Salt Lake City, Moab, Arches, and all the amazing landscapes here. I recently upgraded my iPhone to the 7+ so I’m also planning to snap some awesome photos to share!

A quick look at the calendar tells me that Halloween is also coming up, which is my favorite holiday of all time. So we’re planning to celebrate with a pumpkin patch visit, perhaps some cheap & easy costumes, and plenty of pumpkin-flavored desserts and beer!

Thanks for following our adventures and definitely looking forward to what month #4 brings!

 

Related:

Inside Chicago’s Polish (Possibly Therapeutic?) Salt Cave

They say 45 minutes in a salt cave is as good as spending three days on the beach. Chicago in February is just about as far from the beach as humanly possible. As a more feasible Tuesday evening alternative, I drove up and over to the Dunning neighborhood to scope out a little place called Galos Cave.

Entrance to Galos Cave, next to the Jolly Inn Polish buffet

Entrance to Galos Cave, next to the Jolly Inn Polish buffet

What the Heck Is a Salt Cave?

Salt caves are designed to expose people to salt therapy, sometimes referred to as halotherapy or speleotherapy. The thought is that exposure to the minerals in the salt produces natural health benefits.

The concept actually dates back to Medieval times. In 1843, a Polish physician by the name of Dr. Feliks Boczkowski wrote that the miners who worked in caves lined with salt didn’t suffer lung diseases. Crimean salt, derived from the mysterious Black Sea, got a lot of attention at the 1912 World Exhibit in Paris. Dr. Karl Hermann Spannage started using salt for therapeutic purposes after noticing improvements in the health of his patients who hid in the Kluterthöhle cave during heavy World War II bombings.

Although salt caves are largely an Eastern European thing, we have one right here in the Chicago city limits. The Everet Company has been building other Galos caves in Poland since 2000, and the Chicago one’s been around since 2005. For you suburbanites, you can also check out Timeless Spa and Salt Cave in Naperville.

Unleash your healing powers upon me, salt cave!

Unleash your healing powers upon me, salt cave!

What Magical Things Are In That Salt?

There are natural deposits of the mineral, halite, in salt caves, which is allegedly derived from ancient seas and lakes. Specific minerals are unique to individual salt caves, however, all salt caves are supposed to have a stable air temperature, humidity, and a lack of airborne pollutants. Here’s what Galos Cave has:

  • Calcium to stabilize the nervous and skeletal systems
  • Sodium to balance bodily energies and pressures
  • Potassium to improve neuromuscular functioning and motor skills
  • Magnesium to calm muscle groups
  • Copper to improve blood flow and prevent inflammation
  • Bromide iodine to control fat transformation and protect against radiation
  • Fluorine to strengthen bones and stimulate immunity

According to the website, the temperature of Galos cave is 70-75 F, and the air humidity is 35-45%.

Does It Actually Work?

Salt cave believers say that just ten 45-minute sessions will treat your respiratory tracts, thyroid condition, heart condition, skin problems, anxiety, exhaustion, and obesity. Not surprisingly, these health claims are met with a fair bit of skepticism.

One cave believer, Merle Golden, told ABC News, “My breathing, my lungs, my sinuses, and energy and just aches and pains…it just seems to help with everything.”

However, most doctors agree that there is little hard science to back up claims like Ms. Golden’s. “From my perspective, there really is no risk to being in a room full of salt as long as you are not eating it,” said Dr. D. Kyle Hogarth, a pulmonologist at University of Chicago Medical Center. “If it helps you breathe better, you know in addition to the medications you are on , I got no problem with it. It’s your money and if you want to spend it to go sit in a cave, go ahead.”

Kids salt boLounging around in the salt cavex

Lounging around in the salt cave

So Honestly, What’s It Really Like In There?

Personally, I was a little nervous about my first salt cave experience. So naturally, I asked the woman at the front desk a few questions while surrendering my credit card. “It will all be explained to you inside,” she replied.

So with no comforting words of advice, I entered the strangely lit room with my wonderfully open-minded boyfriend at my side. I’ll admit, the aesthetics of the room are pretty amazing. Walk in and you’ll see colorful lights, salt sculpture formations, a salt-crusted floor, a ring of lounge chairs, and a stack of towels.

I must admit that I didn’t fully pay attention to the recorded voice talking about the benefits of the salt cave once the door closed behind us. Although the salt cave could have easily accommodated 10-12 guests, we were the only ones there. Like true kids at heart, we excitedly busied ourselves by touching the walls, snapping pictures, tossing salt around the room, and exclaiming what a totally trippy place this really was.

After the initial excitement wore off and the lights dimmed, we settled into lounge chairs and got comfortable. New age-ish music played to the sound of crashing waves and chirping birds. I guess you’re supposed to silently sit still and relax. However, my self-diagnosed ADD got the better of me, and I found myself reading my Kindle and browsing Groupon deals after about ten minutes. After 45 minutes, the colorful floor lights pop back on: the universal cue to get out.

Kids and Salt Caves

One of the things that I found most surprising about Galos Cave was that children are invited to come in. There is a sand (er, salt) box in the corner of the room with tiny shovels, buckets, and beach toys. Although there were no children present during my time in the salt cave, I would imagine the sound of squealing kids throwing salt at each other would cancel out any relaxation benefits that the cave may offer.

Kids' corner salt box with toys

Kids’ corner salt box with toys

The Logistics

  • Located at 6501 W. Irving Park Road in Chicago
  • Open 7 days a week from 10 am to 8 pm
  • Call 773-283-7701 to make an appointment before showing up
  • A 45 minute session costs $15 for adults, $10 for seniors and students, and $8 for children ages 4-12, and free for kids under 3.
  • Wear comfortable clothes and socks

So is going to a salt cave worth it? For a one-time experience, definitely! Galos Cave is truly unique to the Chicagoland area, and I learned a lot about a therapy that I never knew existed. For a pretty reasonable price, this was an awesome excuse to get out of the house on a snowy Tuesday evening. Clearly, some other Chicagoans agree with me, because Galos Cave just made Chicagoist‘s “9 Best Spas in Chicago” list.

The Jolly Inn next door also serves up some mean buffet-style Polish cuisine. I can rarely turn down a good potato and cheese pierogi.

However, I don’t see myself going back to another salt cave anytime soon. Granted, I only went to one session and not the recommended ten, but I sure didn’t notice any sort physical, mental, or spiritual health benefits. I’m not sure how much I believe in the hype, but I do believe in seeking out and taking a chance on random experiences. Places like Galos Cave spice up the routines of daily life and remind us how much there is to learn about in the world.

Have you ever been to a salt cave. If so, what did you think? And if not, would you consider going to one now?

Flying through the Jungle, with the Greatest of Ease

I love rock climbing, but I hate roller coasters.  I love canyoneering, but I have no desire to go skydiving. Outdoor adventures are my thing…daredevil thrills are not. With that being said, I wasn’t sure how much I would really enjoy zip lining. But I figured if I was ever going to try it, it was going to be in Costa Rica.

IMG_1626If you search for “zip lining in Costa Rica,” you’ll be inundated with dozens of sales pitches. Apparently, I’m not the first person who thought zip lining through the jungle would be a cool experience. Aside from biased recommendations from other vacationers, it’s impossible to know which zip line company to choose. After a bit of research, you realize that there are  tons of competitive adventure companies in Costa Rica and that they all charge about the same amount. My choice was based on location convenience and online reviews.

IMG_1632Since I didn’t book a rental car, I was at the mercy of the Costa Rican public bus system…which surprisingly exceed my expectations. Although the buses were clean, safe, and on time, it always took a long time to get from Point A to Point B. Arenal’s EcoGlide canopy tour set me back $55 USD, which was a reasonable rate for such a touristy town.

Just minutes after checking into our cabin in Arenal, Eco Glide’s van pulled up and shuffled me into the back. A retired Canadian couple rode along side me in the van. I mentally reassured myself that if they could zip line, then so could I.

IMG_1646Unlike some other adventure companies, the sole business of EcoGlide is zip lining. So it made sense that they had the equipment setup and training instruction down to a science. Unexpectedly,  there were about twelve zip lines and about twelve people in our group, mostly “middle-agers gone wild” escaped from Florida.

IMG_1700The “zip professionals” geared the group up with helmets, harnesses, a sliding glove, and common-sense advice. Most of the staff spoke broken English, but I was still glad I’d studied key Spanish phrases on an iPhone app the night before. EcoGlide’s canopy tour is divided into two sections. The first section had eight cables, with lengths between ten and 110 meters, and the second section had five cables, with lengths between 100 and 430 meters. Given my limited zip knowledge, I had never expected to be riding on cables for over two hours.

IMG_1712When I stepped to the edge of my first platform, I felt a huge pit in my stomach. Although I’m not afraid of heights, free fall drops have always made me squeamish. Much to my relief, there are no “drops” in zip lining! I never got stuck in the middle of a zip, I never got tangled up, and I kept my eyes open to take mental snapshots of the colorful landscape whizzing by. After a few zips, I was even trusted to wear a fancy camera around my neck and snap a few real photos.

The one part of the experience that I said “no, thank you” to was the Tarzan Swing. After watching a couple poor saps free fall into the abyss, I knew I’d have no regrets about safely hiking to the bottom to listen to their blood-curdling screams echo through the forest.

IMG_1709EcoGlide’s friendly, encouraging staff never made me feel like a scared little wimp, and they even handed out complimentary beer after the last zip. That was a well-deserved Imperial, thank you very much. I don’t see myself becoming a professional zip liner anytime soon, nor do I expect to pay good money to do it again unless the scenery offers something dramatically different. However, I’m glad I tried it, I’m glad I waited for Costa Rica to try it, and I’m glad I lived to tell the tale.