Japan & Vegas: Pretty Much the Exact Opposite of RV Life (Month 32)

For nearly three years now, pretty much all of my blog posts have been about camper life and full-time RVing. However, month #32 of camper life was largely spent outside of this tiny home on wheels and in a random collection of hotels, hostels, and ryokans. It was just the kind of break I needed to feel like a traveler and not just an RV traveler.

To kick off the month, the husband and I flew to Japan for an international vacation. We’d grown frustrated with putting off international travel until camper life was over and honestly a bit America-ed out. So, we stashed Monkey in an awesome at-home dog boarding situation and hopped on a plane for my very first trip to Asia. From there, the randomness continued with a girls’ trip to Vegas with my college roommates and stays in some familiar Texas cities as well.

Here’s a quick recap of this past month’s batch of homes on the road.

San Antonio, Texas: Home on the Road #106 (continued)

Our stay in San Antonio was a bit of a weird one. Our camper stayed put in one place for a full month (a record for us!) but we really weren’t in it all that much. It ended up being cheaper and easier just to pay a monthly campground rate and leave it sit empty than deal with an RV storage facility. For most of the time we actually spent in town, I was sick or it was raining. I’ve been to San Antonio a couple times before though, so fortunately I didn’t develop a case of FOMO.

  • Highlights: Finding an awesome dog sitter to take in Monkey for 8 days who sent us daily pics and videos (she and her new best bud, Radley, are pictured below!), finally getting to do a few touristy things by biking the missions and taking down some tasty veggie quesadillas on the Riverwalk.
  • Lowlights: Being sick much of the time we were actually in the city, another urgent care visit, campground was about 30 minutes from everything in town, non-stop working to make up for taking vacation days off, rain and more rain.

Tokyo/Yamanouchi/Kyoto/Nara, Japan: Home on the Road # 107

Japan was amazing, and I can’t say enough good things about my first experience in Asia. We flew into Tokyo and quickly mastered the train system to travel to Yamanouchi, Kyoto, and Nara. It was surprisingly easy to get around as a dumb American tourist, thanks to so many signs and menus with English translations and also because of how many people there could speak a little English. I had learned some basics (please, thank you, etc.), but I felt that most people were friendly and patient with me, especially compared to other places (I’m looking at you, France).

  • Highlights: Seeing snow monkeys in the wild, embracing the crowded streets of Tokyo, feeling comfortable among locals who are polite/non-intrusive and keep to themselves (unlike pretty much everywhere I go in the U.S.), amazing food everywhere we went (okonomiyaki is my new favorite), temples and shrines (Fushimi Inari was my favorite), roaming deer and the national museum in Nara, staying in a traditional ryokan with an onsen, giving public nude bathing a try, animal cafes with hedgehogs and cats, flashy show at Tokyo’s Robot Restaurant, not as expensive of a trip overall as expected.
  • Lowlights: Airline lost our luggage so we had to wear the same clothes for three days and buy new toiletries/underthings, insane jet lag that had me totally loopy and talking out of my head like an emotional rollercoaster, being sick on the trip and getting sicker when we got back, a few frigid/rainy days but not too bad honestly.

Ladies-Only Trip to Vegas! 

Just one week after getting back from Japan, I was back on a plane for a much-needed girls’ trip to Las Vegas. My senior year college roommates and I hadn’t taken a trip together since just after graduation, so we were definitely overdue for some ladies’ nights out and husband breaks.

  • Highlights: Finally having a place to wear going-out dresses, getting 34K+ steps in walking up and down the Strip, fun Gwen Stefani concert, cheering on scantily clad men at Thunder Down Under, nice hotel room at NYNY, catching up with awesome long-time friends, doing a little bachelorette party celebrating with festive sashes.
  • Lowlights: Our fourth partner in crime’s flight was cancelled so we were a group of 3 instead of 4 (love you, Nicole!), mediocre/overpriced food options, not nice enough weather for pool time, clueless/unhelpful hotel staff, not being able to wear bachelorette party tattoos because we didn’t have a mini scissors to cut them out (first world problems).

Austin, Texas: Home on the Road #108

I’m sure the SXSW music festival is awesome and all, but it really threw a wrench in our Austin camping plans. Campsites were either totally booked out or insanely priced during the event, which means we had to cut our Austin stay short to just six days. We were staying in McKinney Falls State Park though, which meant easy access to outdoor recreation and being a safe distance away from the crowds and chaos.

  • Highlights: Getting on the wall at Crux Climbing gym, hikes and trail runs at McKinney Falls, the dog-friendly Uncle Billy’s Brewhouse & Smokehouse that had vegetarian options and a live band, pretty much everything being dog-friendly in Austin, seeing a live improv comedy show (it was just okay though) at The Hideout, randomly holding a baby goat, biking along the river downtown.
  • Lowlights: Only getting to spend a few hours really in downtown Austin, crowded trails with loose (“he’s friendly!”) dogs everywhere, cold days below freezing, remembering what a sticky mess cotton candy is and how truly terrifying crawfish are at the Austin Crawfish Festival.

Somerville, Texas: Home on the Road #109

With our Austin plans cut short, we fled further into Texas to camp near Lake Somerville in hopes of squeezing in some water recreation. It’s been a bit rainy and windy so far, so we have yet to get out on the boats (but maybe today!). But this has still been a super peaceful and low-key place to stay with pretty much nothing to do besides get outside at the state park every day and get work done. It’s pretty much exactly what I needed after Japan, Vegas, and Austin.

  • Highlights: Slower pace to relax and not be overwhelmed by options of things to do, camped about a mile from the state park for hikes and trail runs, board games and smoothies on a rare lazy Sunday, windowsill gardening.
  • Lowlights: The great laundry debacle of 2019 with a broken dryer and unexpected trip with dripping clothes to the nearest laundromat 20 miles away, rain and mugginess, mud everywhere, loud barking neighbor dogs that wake me up at night (makes me appreciate my mostly bark-free Monkey though!)



This Month’s Ramblings from the Road

I’m now the proud owner of a Ninja mini blender! I’ve definitely missed making smoothies and protein shakes over the last couples years, but my old blender got tossed out in the downsizing efforts before we set out for full-time camper life. It’s been fun experimenting with tossing random combinations of things in these single-serving cups and feeling damn healthy about it.

Nobody likes to have lost luggage, but it’s particularly stressful after 15 hours of flying and upon arriving in a country where you’re too dumb to communicate in the local language. Somehow, we were reunited with our bags within a day and a half though, and I’ve never been so happy to see a silly backpack.

When I’m done with RV life and have my own house, I’m going to have the most amazing washer and dryer that money can buy. Doing laundry in nasty public facilities and with chronically broken machines has scarred me for life. I pretty much get the shakes every time another sock gets dirty these days.


Looking Ahead to Next Month

Month 33 might not be as random or international Month 32, but it’s still set up to be an interesting one. This is somewhat because we’re having visitors in just a couple weeks! My parents are flying down to Houston for an extended weekend, so we’ll be checking out Houston and Galveston with them. After that, we’ve planned a brief, yet epic, bike ride/tent camping adventure along the Gulf Coast that will pass through the southern parts of Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, and Florida.

Texas has been a bit rainy for us lately, but it’s still nothing compared to Oregon last spring with the steady rain and crazy mold growth in the windowsills of the RV. So, I’ll keep reminding myself of that and hoping it clears up to get out on Lake Somerville at least once before we move things along to the magical land of Huntsville State Park to see yet another new part of Texas. Being back in Texas makes me miss Japan a lot though, and we’ve already started talking about the other places in Japan we want to visit on our next trip overseas.

Until next month, sayonara.


Catch up with the journey:

Living Large in Texas: Month #31 of Camper Life in the Lone Star State

There’s been a whole lot of Texas going on over the past month, and I’m happy to report that we finally found the magical warmth that we’ve been seeking in the south. Sorry to rub it in, Midwesterners who recently survived the polar vortex 😉

Month #31 on the road began with our second full week in Marfa, Texas, followed by a couple weeks further south and east in Del Rio near the Mexican border. Now we’ve plopped down in San Antonio for a month as our home base for non-RV travels to Japan and Las Vegas. While Month #30 encompassed the Christmas trip back east with lots of driving and rushing around, the pace of camper life slowed down in Month #31, which was exactly what I needed.

Here’s a quick recap of this past month’s batch of homes on the road.

Marfa, Texas: Home on the Road #104 (continued)

Since the government was still shut down during our time around Big Bend National Park, we opted to visit Big Bend State Ranch Park instead, which was an awesome decision. This is a remote and rugged park with disbursed camping, some interesting hiking trails, and plenty of solitude. We left the RV behind to tent-camp here and then rounded things out with stops in the small random towns of Lajitas, Terlingua, and Alpine. There was also a nice desert botanical garden we checked out (I do love my cacti) outside the little town of Fort Davis.

  • Highlights: Camping out in a tent with a beautiful sunset and no one around, seeing a javelina up-close for the first time (surprisingly cute!), scenery at Big Bend Ranch State Park, sipping post-hike margaritas in the random resort town of Lajitas, driving through the bizarre encampments and pseudo-roads of Terlingua, super chill driving range to hit a few golf balls in Marfa, hiking around Chihuahuan Desert Nature Center & Botanical Garden
  • Lowlights: The relentless winds of West Texas, getting sick after the tent-camping adventure and being out-of-commission for a few days (is my body getting too old to tent camp?!), still not getting to visit Big Bend National Park, yet another campground that can’t figure out how to enforce dog leash rules, drinking tequila for the first time in ages and remembering why I don’t drink tequila anymore 

Del Rio, Texas: Home on the Road #105

Like Marfa, Del Rio was a place I’d never been before in Texas. Although there wasn’t a ton to do here, that was actually a really good thing because it helped me minimize distractions and get a ton of work done in advance of our upcoming trip to Japan. Also, the weather here was pretty perfect and got up to 70 degrees on several days. This was such a relief after having our RV pipes continually freeze and struggle through other winter-RV-related drama over the past couple months.

  • Highlights: Perfect boating conditions to take out the kayak and SUP at Amistad National Recreation Area, having access to a campground gym that actually didn’t suck and toning up some muscles by lifting weights, the surprisingly impressive frontier village of the Whitehead Memorial Museum, online ordering and campground delivery success so I don’t have to buy new clothes/shoes in an actual store, being super active with trail running and lifting to the point of actually seeing results, impressive campground Wi-Fi, another round of tent camping and a 15+ mile hike at Devil’s River State Natural Area
  • Lowlights: Taco trucks with no meat-free options, getting sick yet again and having to go to a shady urgent care clinic, popping a tire while mountain biking

San Antonio, Texas: Home on the Road #106

I booked us a campground for an entire month here in San Antonio so we have a stable place for home base during the upcoming non-RV travels. Unlike Marfa and Del Rio, I’ve been to San Antonio a couple times before but have always enjoyed the place. So, far, we haven’t really been able to do anything very fun or touristy here though, due to constant rain, working ahead, and being pretty far away from downtown.

  • Highlights: Warmish weather with no freezing nights, few distractions = more time to work ahead before our Japan trip, finding a local, cage-free home stay for Monkey during our vacation, finally breaking out the sewing machine again, boba tea and fro-yo
  • Lowlights: Crowded campground with lots of barking dogs tied outside, no fitness center or other campground amenities, crappy Wi-Fi, rainy and dreary weather, mud everywhere, surrounded by suburban sprawl, being 30+ minutes from all things to do in the city and from hiking too, a second trip to an urgent care clinic



This Month’s Ramblings from the Road

I saw my first javelina at Big Bend Ranch State Park! They’re kind of cute and dopey, but apparently people try to hunt them for some reason.

We always try to find self-serve dog washes to give Monkey a bath every month or so, but in some places, that’s easier said than done. This little lady hadn’t had a bath since before Christmas and was starting to stink, well, like a dog. This campground actually had a dog washing sink and enclosed area, but the water was ice cold with no adjustment options. So, this happened: a bucket bath in the middle of a dead grass/gravel pit!

We recently celebrated Monkey’s 5th birthday here in San Antonio! We adopted her three years ago and threw a little camper party and wen on a rainy hike to celebrate.

In an effort to be a little healthier, I’m doing my best to drink more tea instead of booze. To make tea more of a “thing,” I’ve been experimenting with loose leaf tea and a tea infuser. I’m pretty into it, but it’s still a challenge.

Today is my 6-year freelanceaversary! I’m been full-time freelance writing for 6 years now as of today, which is kind of crazy. To kick off year #7, I’m in talks with a publisher about writing a book about gnomes. In other gnome-related news, I’ve also recently taken over the leadership position of the International Gnome Club.


Looking Ahead to Next Month

Month #32 is set up to be one of the most exciting months EVER! Literally tomorrow, we jet off to Japan for a week of Asian adventures. It’ll be my first trip to Asia, and I’m pretty much all packed and ready to hit the mean streets of Tokyo, Nagano, Yamanouchi, Kyoto, Nara, Osaka, and wherever else we happen to land instead because of mishaps in complex train navigation. Sadly, my flashcard and Duolingo app efforts to learn basic Japanese have been in vain, and I’m exhausted with constant travel planning. We’ve figured out a few things, but have left quite a bit unplanned in an attempt at spontaneity.

Within a few days of getting back, I’m back on a plane again but this time to Las Vegas for a girls’ weekend. And in between all of this madness, I’m hoping to see bits and pieces of San Antonio too.

Until next time…sayōnara!


Catch up with the journey:

The Cross-Country Christmas Journey from the Southwest & Back: 2.5 Years of Nomad Life

Although I grew up in the Midwest, I have little desire to be back there except for visits to family and friends. This means that every Christmas involves a cross-country journey and doing my best to avoid snow, ice, traffic, and delays.

These days, we opt to drive instead of fly for this particular journey so that Monkey can join us for Christmas and because well, air travel just sucks. It’s a Jeep-only endeavor since the RV is a gas-guzzler, but fortunately, we found a departure campground with onsite storage to simplify the logistics. This year’s Christmas journey began in Albuquerque, New Mexico, made a stop in Atlanta, Georgia and then finally onto the town I grew up in, Arthur, Illinois.

On the eastbound journey, we broke up the drives with overnight hotel stays in Henryetta, Oklahoma and Tupelo, Mississippi, visits to Fort Smith National Historic Site and Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site in Arkansas, visits to Civil War battlefields in Mississippi, and breweries in Little Rock and Birmingham. Our stay in Georgia revolved around the husband’s business meetings, a company Christmas dinner, and getting an emissions test done in the Jeep so we don’t have to worry about that nonsense until August 2020.

It was Christmas traditions as usual at my parents’ place, with way too many amazing gifts and delicious things to eat. We tried to offset the impending fatness by running on their treadmill in the garage every morning. We spent a full week here in the house where I went to high school from and were able to get some much-needed downtime. I squeezed in work with every spare moment that didn’t feel like it was infringing upon the festive spirit.

I typically feel like I’m usually the one who makes the effort to visit people, but as an added bonus this year, everyone seemed to come to us! We had two sets of friends passing through Arthur who were awesome enough to stop by and say hello to break up their drives through the frigid corn fields. A few days later, a friend from high school came over to see us as well and scarf down some Mexican food to break up all the meals filled with casseroles and pies.

After spending a full week in Arthur, it was time to head back; however, all of the national monuments we’d planned to visit on the return journey were closed due to this idiotic government shutdown. So, we powered through Missouri and Oklahoma and stayed overnight in hotels in Tulsa, Oklahoma and Tucumcari, New Mexico along the way.

Central and southern New Mexico don’t typically get much snow, but the universe wasn’t smiling in our favor this year. The final leg of our return journey was riddled with icy roads and traffic accidents, and we were greeted by a busted pipe system and no running water when we got back to our home on wheels.

Now that we’re 2.5 years into this lifestyle and back at it again, here’s a quick recap of this past month’s batch of homes on the road.

Christmas Trip (Albuquerque, New Mexico > Atlanta, Georgia > Arthur, Illinois): Home on the Road #102

  • Highlights:
    • Being able to keep up with my work and even get ahead a bit over the holidays.
    • Good times with my parents, grandma, extended family, friends traveling through, an old high school friend, and my epic collection of Cabbage Patches that live at my parents’ house.
    • Pretending like I’m a teenager again by having all of my meals cooked for me and laundry done for me
    • Seeing tidbits of random towns in random states
  • Lowlights:
    • So many long hours in the Jeep
    • Treacherous roads in New Mexico to get back
    • Frozen pipe parts = no running water
    • The government shutdown = no visits to national parks/monuments

Las Cruces, New Mexico: Home on the Road #103

Tired of all the camper drama that comes with cold and snow, we booked a campsite in Las Cruces in search of warmth and sunshine. But wouldn’t you know it, it snowed right here barely north of the Mexico border. Regardless, this was a fun place to ring in the new year and transition back into camper life after the holidays.

  • Highlights:
    • New Year’s Eve Chili Drop festival downtown – we made it out until midnight!
    • A healthy Monkey report from her annual vet appointment and dental cleaning
    • Still the best campground bathrooms/showers I’ve ever experienced at Sunny Acres RV Park
  • Lowlights:
    • Why is everything in the RV breaking?!
    • Not nearly as warm or snow-free as it’s supposed to be here
    • Back to the grind with all work and not-so-much play

Marfa, Texas: Home on the Road #104

In 2.5 years of full-time RV life, would you believe that we’ve never camped in Texas? Sure, we’ve camped in Texas pre-camper-life in a tent and stayed in Texas hotels while making cross-country Christmas road trips. But our stay in Marfa finally warranted the adding of the Texas sticker to our RV travel map. I’d heard of Marfa’s mysterious lights and weird artist community, and I watched the one and only season of I Love Dick. This was our first time experiencing Marfa for ourselves though.

  • Highlights:
    • Checking out minimalist, abstract, modern, and just plain random art in the middle of the desert (a Prada store that never opens?!)
    • Scenic and secluded hike at Davis Mountains State Park nearby
    • Warmer days in the 50s and 60s
    • Slow pace of life and some rare downtime
    • Looking through telescopes at a “star party” at the McDonald Observatory in Fort Davis
    • Tent camping for the weekend at Big Bend Ranch State Park, an excellent Big Bend National Park alternative (I’ll kick off with this in next month’s post)
  • Lowlights:
    • Never-ending camper repairs, especially the plumbing system
    • The “donations suggested” campground washer/dryer machines that took 4+ hours to do one load of laundry
    • Strong and never-ending West Texas winds
    • Shops, galleries, and restaurants often closed and only seem to open when they want to
    • Not a good time to visit Big Bend National Park with the shutdown so skipped it



This Month’s Ramblings from the Road

  • Working in certain hotels on the Christmas journey really made me miss having a real desk and chair to put in my 8+ hours per day. Pictured here: LaQuinta in Dunwoody, Georgia.

  • For a while there, winter camping was further driving me towards calling this lifestyle quits in 2019. Winter or not, we’re working towards a plan to plop down by the end of summer in the Southwest. Therefore, 2 1/2 years of camper life = six months left of camper life (approximately). There is an end on the horizon, which is pretty unsettling but also pretty exciting to enter a new phase in a new place.


Looking Ahead to Next Month

Month #31 is looking like a whole lot of Texas, including some new parts of Texas that I have yet to see. From Marfa, we’re heading to the Del Rio and plopping down there for a couple weeks. After that, it’s on to San Antonio, which will be our home base for a full month. We’ve never actually reserved a campsite for an entire month before! It’s usually cheaper to do that, but we typically have a harder time staying in one place than paying weekly rates. However, we won’t exactly be IN San Antonio all that time.

Not a campsite. This is a Dan Flavin art exhibit in Marfa.

I’ve been frustrated with putting off international travel just because of the logistics of camper life, so just before Christmas, we did something spontaneous and booked a flight to Japan! It seems like all we ever do is travel plan, so our Japan itinerary is still wide open. However, we’ll be there for a week, flying into and out of Tokyo, and looking to take trains to other places like Osaka, Kyoto, snow monkeys, etc. Please send any tips or suggestions my way. Thanks to my friends who have already offered great tips!

Custom Jeep decals with our silhouettes and favorite landscapes!

Then the non-camper living continues even after Japan for me. Towards the end of the month, I’ll be heading to Vegas for a weekend girls trip with some favorite ladies from college. So while month #31 is going to be all about Texas and trip preparations, month #32 is going entirely out of my normal routine. Bring it.


Catch up with 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:

Horses on the Beach: Corpus Christi, Texas

After my recent trip to Texas, I successfully doubled the amount of times I’ve ridden a horse. Yep, you guessed it – I’ve gone horseback riding a whopping two times now!

Kettle Morraine Horseback 1

I took my first ride in the summer of 2012 with Dream A Horse in Wisconsin’s Kettle Moraine State Park. My guide took me on a one-hour trail ride, which involved some slopes that felt scarier than they should have and plenty of branches to scratch me up along the way.

Kettle Morraine on horseback 2

Texas and horseback riding seemed to go hand-in-hand, so I was determined to “play cowgirl” when I set up camp down there for a couple weeks. There are a couple horseback riding options around Corpus Christi, but I settled on Horses on the Beach (clever name, right?). It was located near the Padre Island National Seashore, where I was camping, and it got decent customer reviews.

Horse instructions

I called ahead to reserve my spot for a 1 1/2 hour sunset ride, which came with a $65 price tag. I mean, how do you NOT choose the “sunset ride” over the “sunshine ride?”

Apparently, I wasn’t the only person who thought it would be fun to ride ride a horse along the Texas coast in the setting sun. There were about 20 other aspiring cowboys and cowgirls in my tour group, all with varying degrees of skill and experience. I’ll just say my confidence level was on par with that of the 10-year-old first-timer riding next to me. Unsurprisingly, the operation was a bit touristy, but horses seemed to be treated well.

Follow the leader

Based on my (lack of) experience and my height, I was paired up with a horse named Titus. While on the beach ride, I was amused to learn that Titus was famous. Our guide, Brennan Wells, told me how Titus was recently cast for a role in a local Western movie that was called something to the effect of “Red and Yellow to Kill a Fellow.”

Oddly enough, people are allowed to drive cars ON the beach in the most areas of the Padre Island National Seashore. This was a little disconcerting atop a horse.

Nervously holding the reins

On a somewhat related note, I run the blog for the adventure experience company, FunSherpa, and recently wrote an article about good places to go horseback riding and tips for first-timers. Now more than ever, I understand that I’ve got a lot to learn about horses before venturing to one of these destinations atop a horse. First of all, I need to learn how to relax, loosen my grip, and trust in the fact that people have been successfully getting around on these things for thousands of years.

Sun has set, cars drive on the beach

But for now, I’m simply pleased with myself for not falling off of Titus and not causing a majorly embarrassing scene on the beach. Perhaps my next ride will be a little more relaxing and little less nerve-racking. Or perhaps a little more secluded and a little less crowded. But it’ll be hard to beat the sound of waves rolling into the shore and the sight of birds soaring high above the gulf.

Titus and I on the beach

So this post goes out to Titus: my second riding partner, my little movie star, and the horse who gave me one of the most beautiful and memorable sunsets I’ve ever experienced.

Dirty Bill’s: A (Sort Of) Gnome-Themed Dive Bar in Austin

Dirty Bill’s would be just like any other dive bar on the map except for one simple fact. It is filled with glossy photographs of a traveling gnome mingling with celebrities.

Dirty Bill's 1Tucked away from the blaring live music and pub scene on 6th Street, Dirty Bill’s is a tiny, dark bar in Austin’s Warehouse District. So how did a tourist like me stumble upon it, you ask? Well before I take any trip, I do a quick Google search for “[town name + gnomes].” Other than a couple quirky shops (which I obviously visited also), Dirty Bill’s was the only result I found.

This is the home of the “world famous” gnome, Dirty Bill, but sadly, no one seems to care anymore. I found my way the bar, late on a Saturday afternoon. The bar was empty, and the only sign of life was the bartender half-heartedly cleaning up a pile of puke on the sidewalk by the front door.

Dirty Bill's 2The walls were plastered with the most amazing photographs of an obscure variety of celebrities posing with Dirty Bill. This gnome has been held by everyone from Les Claypool to Bill Murray, Modest Mouse, Tony Hawk, Kid Rock, Courtney Love, and Alice Cooper. It seems he’s lived quite the live, considering shots of him getting tattooed, skydiving, and committing various forms of public scandal.

So who exactly is Dirty Bill, how does he get around so much, and why is he just sitting in a glass case right now?

Dirty Bill's 3Unfortunately, these questions remain largely unanswered.

After an initial look around, I introduced myself as a “gnome enthusiast” to the bartender, Crystal, and begged my boyfriend to snap as many photos (of the photos) as possible. Crystal seemed wholly uninterested in gnomes, but she was kind enough to entertain my obsession for awhile.

Dirty Bill's 5Crystal revealed that one of the owners of the place shared my obsession and had been well-connected in the music industry. She said that Dirty Bill hadn’t traveled anywhere in quite some time and that the owner wasn’t really into it anymore. Most of Dirty Bill’s photos were snapped in the late 90s and early 2000s. Personally, I can’t understand how you can own/work in a bar full of gnomes and NOT be “into it.”

Although Crystal (the only staff member working at the time) didn’t seem to know much about the origins of the gnome or the intentions or whereabouts of the owner, she agreed to let me meet Dirty Bill up close and personal. He was covered in stickers, tattoos, scratches, and other common types of battle scars that gnomes suffer from while traveling. According to the bar’s Facebook page, Dirty Bill began traveling in 1999.

Dirty Bill's 6I made few more laps around perimeter to soak up each and every photograph in the bar, which to date, is the only gnome-themed bar I’ve ever been to. What I wouldn’t give to own and operate a gnome bar of my very own!?

If you read reviews of the bar, you’ll see a steady stream of complaints about bad service, impersonal staff, and cramped space. But some locals defend it for its unpretentious vibe and the jukebox.

Dirty Bill's 9Internet searches about Dirty Bill yield very few results, and the bar is clearly trying to move away from its gnome theme. They recently replaced the exterior sign, which had a gnome on it, to a dull, black sign that just says “Dirty.” They’re moving away from the name “Dirty Bill’s” entirely, and going for that whole overdone, generic dive bar theme instead. Check out the bar’s website and you’ll be hard pressed to find a gnome.

Dirty Bill's 10I left Dirty Bills that hot Texas afternoon with a bittersweet feeling. This bar has so much potential for eclectic patrons, but yet it falls so short. In exchange for $15, Crystal found me one of the last bar tank tops that bore Dirty Bill’s name and illustration (in a men’s large – the only size available.)

Perhaps Dirty Bill’s wasn’t all I’d hope it would be, but I sure am glad to got to meet him before the bar abandons him completely. Although he and I are mere acquaintances at best, I hate to think of him being retired to a storage bin to make room for something far more lame. You’d better bet that I’m keeping tabs on the bar though, because if it ever shuts down, I want first dibs on a couple of those photographs!

Yoga on the Road

I’ve been practicing yoga in random studios and living rooms for well over ten years now. In Chicago, where I spend most of my time, there is certainly no shortage of yoga studios. However, filling my weekly quota of downward dogs is considerably more challenging when living on the road.

I feel the beneficial effects of yoga when I’m traveling even more than I do when hanging around my home base. Trying to sleep on planes makes my neck stiff. Hunching over picnic tables to work at campgrounds makes my back ache. And driving for long stretches of road makes all my joints tense and fatigued. I’ve had my fair share of battles with anxiety, and yoga is one of the few things that brings me back to reality.

Yoga at Stanley Park in Vancouver, B.C.

Yoga at Stanley Park in Vancouver, B.C.

Much of my travel revolves around active adventure, which has a nasty tendency of making me feel like the age on my driver’s license. Certain yoga positions are better than others when preparing for or recovering from adventures, like rock climbing.

As I have begun to travel more, I’ve struggled to take my yoga practice with me. My yoga mat is bulky, Internet access is sketchy, and classes are expensive. But if there’s a will, there’s a way. And I found a way to practice yoga during my last two extended road trips. Here’s how:

National, State and Local Park Classes

Not surprisingly, my absolutely favorite place to do yoga is in the outdoors. This summer, I stayed on the outskirts of Acadia National Park for about a week and decided to search for outdoor classes in the area. I was excited to discover Yoga in the Park, a low-key community that offers public classes in the park’s most beautiful places.

I recently traveled to Miami and discovered that Bayfront Park offers free yoga classes every Monday, Wednesday and Saturday. When I stopped in for a Saturday morning class, I was greeted with a warm welcome, a recommendation to nab a shady spot, and handed a spare mat to use.

Studios and Community Centers in Random Towns

You might be surprised that the po-dunk town you’re staying in for a couple days has a community center that offers fitness classes. It’s a no-brainer; run a quick Google search for yoga classes in the place you’re staying and show up. Maybe the class won’t be as fancy as the ones you frequent back home, but it’ll still get the job done. And if one of your travel goals is to meet like-minded strangers wherever you go, then you just got an added bonus.

Campground Pavilions

Financially, the only way that I can afford to travel so much is by staying in campgrounds. And unless the temperatures drop below 40-degrees, I prefer it that way regardless. I recently camped out in Texas’ Ink’s Lake State Park for a week and got the itch to do some yoga. Considering that the nearest town was a 45-minute drive away, I pulled out my Verizon MiFi and an iPad as an alternative. I am willing abandon my position of shunning technology in the outdoors for the sake of doing yoga.

I swept out the dusty floor of the campground pavilion as best I could, propped the iPad against a post, and pulled up a YouTube video. Again, not surprisingly, I gravitate towards yoga videos that were filmed outdoors. Here are a few good ones I’ve found:

Yoga in Costa Rica

Yoga in Costa Rica

Car Yoga

I came across the article published by the school I studied travel writing at, Matador U, and thought it was pretty creative. Alyssa (no relation) James suggests several yoga pose variations that can be done while sitting in a car on a road trip. Although you certainly won’t get the full effect of mountain pose, pigeon pose, or prayer twist in a seated position, they’re certainly better than nothing. This could easily be translated to “office chair yoga” or “couch yoga.”

I am by no mean an expert at doing yoga on the road, but I am getting better at making it work with each trip that I take. I’ve begun to research travel yoga mats to make my kneeling poses less painful and my carry-on luggage less awkward. As I learn tips and tricks by trials and error, I’ll be sure to share them. It’s time we stop thinking of yoga as a location-restrictive routine and start taking it out on the road!

Changing My Perception of Texas: Inks Lake State Park

George Bush worshipers, gun lovers, religious fanatics, pickup truck drivers, corrupt oil tycoons.

Those are a few of the Texas stereotypes I brought with me to Inks Lake State Park last month. I forgot about all of them by the end of the week.

Campsite #87

Campsite #87

After trolling the San Antonio-to-Austin circuit for the second time, I ventured a bit off the beaten path to explore some lesser-known parts of the Lone Star State. Inks Lake State Park is within a two-hour drive from both cities, and just north of Longhorn Cavern State Park.

The park takes up 1,201 acres along the Colorado River and has been open to the public since 1950. We chose this campground over nearby Pedernales Falls State Park because of the tent site area and the Internet situation. If I didn’t make a living working at campgrounds, I would shun Internet access entirely. But alas, something has to fund the nightly fees (which were about $20 per night, by the way).

Cliff jumpers at Devil's Waterhole

Cliff jumpers at Devil’s Waterhole

My absolute favorite places to camp are next to flowing water. We were able to secure a campsite next to the lake for the week, which was mighty convenient for frequent kayaking. Since we have an inflatable kayak, a trip on the water usually entails about 15 minutes of hand pumping. However, our Inks Lake campsite had enough space to leave the kayak sit out inflated each day.

Check out the campsites between space 85 and 91. These have lots of space and nice sunset views, although they tend to get crowded with RVs during peak times. There’s some small, but cutesy, looking cabins a few yards away too if you’re a little less hardcore.

Island picnic via kayak

Island picnic via kayak

Although the lake isn’t enormous, there are a few good kayak routes to check out. One leads to Devil’s Waterhole, where low-key thrill-seekers take turns cliff jumping. There’s also a small island off the coast of the pavilion on the northeast end of the park. This is a great place to kayak to for a secluded lunch or swim to, if you’re not worried about your feet touching the ground.

There’s really only one hiking trail inside the park boundaries, and that’s the Pecan Flats Trail. There are some unexpectedly nice vista points along the trail and a good number of cacti to scope out. Parts of the trail are severely overgrown, so you might have to turn around and head back if the insects are driving you nuts. Take a look at this trail guide to brush up on plants you’ll see along the way.

One of the coolest part about the Texas State Parks is the free fishing. Never have I encountered another recreational area that lends you fishing poles and tackle for free. As someone who occasionally (and impatiently) dips a pole in the water but who has never actually caught a fish, “free” is essential.The park staff isn’t all that concerned about you keeping the gear for a few days either. I was simply asked to bring the pole back at the end of the week when I check out. The park general store sells live bait for a few dollars, as well as souvenirs and snacks.

That general store also rents out kayaks, canoes, and paddleboats by the hour for about $15-20. Since we have our own kayak, we decided to take a paddleboat out on day for a lunch break from work. There’s no way around it – paddleboats are really dumb. However I justified the experience by smuggling a couple beers on board and declaring the peddling to be an adequate leg workout for the day.

I felt simultaneously more work-productive and more relaxed at Inks Lake State Park than anywhere else in a long time. Since I’ve returned home to my home base in Chicago, I haven’t been able to find anywhere near the motivation or focus I had while working and playing here. Not only was Inks Lake a breath of fresh air for my confidence and my state of mind, but it was also instrumental in changing my perception about the state ofTexas.

Whip In: Austin’s One-Stop Brewery/Indian Restaurant/Concert Venue/Grocery Store

I can’t think of another single place in the world that combines the best aspects of craft beer, Indian food, live music, and grocery shopping. Whip In does exactly that, and does it pretty well.

Roadside sign

Roadside sign

My boyfriend, who happens to be Indian, and I came across Whip In’s website while searching for breweries to sample in the Austin area. We were intrigued at the unlikely combination of Texas comfort food, traditional Indian food, and craft beer. From what I understand, Indians aren’t exactly known for their breweries.

The Travel Channel’s Andrew Zimmern even did a little piece on the place, however, I don’t feel he does it justice. Sorry to call you out, buddy, it’s going to take more than footage of your chewing to convince me of Whip In’s awesomeness.

Scoping out the menu

Scoping out the menu

Back in 1986, the owners, Amrit and Chandan Topiwala, bought a convenience store in the Travis Heights Neighborhood and made a living off the gas pumps and B-movie selection.

For whatever reason, beer sales began to outweigh gas sales and priorities were shifted.

Texan-Indian Cuisine and Brews

Texan-Indian Cuisine and Brews

 

The convenience store was transformed into a dhaba (traditional Indian/Pakistani roadside restaurant) pub with a full kitchen and homemade brew house. The menu features a mind-boggling fusion of Texan comfort food and authentic Gujarati cuisine. And since it’s in Austin, Whip In practically had no choice but to service local and organic fruits, vegetables, and meats.

Whip In is big on brunch and it has a big section for it on the menu. We settled on a combo dhaba bowl with chana masala, masoor dal, and Zambian corn. We also got an appetizer of samosas and a follow-up entree of dal sliders. With their warm naan, spinach, and mushrooms, the dal sliders were definitely my favorite pick.

Namaste Brewing

Namaste Brewing

Appropriately, Whip In calls its in-house brew house, Namaste Brewing. They had a surprisingly number of beers, although several of the taps had run dry before we showed up.

You can order a sampler of four beers for $10, and we did exactly that. Our picks were the Brahmale, Sitas Revenge, Austinerveisse, and Vishnavi Triple.

 

Outside seating space

Outside seating space

  • Brahmale = postcolonial IPA made w/goodflow honey, grapefruit peel & lemongrass 9.5%abv
  • Sitas = french saison made w/striselspalt&aramis hops 6.5%abv
  • Austinerveisse = berlinerveisse style german sour wheat made w/peaches 4.5%abv
  • Vishnavi = strong triple brew I seem to have misplaced my notes on
Feast time!

Feast time!

Nearly all the beers on tap were high in alcohol content, with 8% and 9% being totally common. I must admit, the combination of strong beer and strong flavors did do a number on my unsuspecting stomach after awhile.

Rambler Rose

Rambler Rose

 

 

 

For a Saturday night, Whip In was busy, crowded, and a little chaotic. As a first timer, I was a little overwhelmed trying to wrap my head around this place. Fortunately, we found a seat at the bar, so there was no wait time. If you aren’t so fortunate, you can push your way to the back and browse the couple aisles of groceries that seem wonderfully out-of-place. The owners have traded in their convenience store snacks for hippie fair like tofu-turkey and Tom’s Natural Toothpaste.

Namaste, ya'll!

Namaste, ya’ll!

Whip In has indoor and outdoor seating, and each space has its own stage. Rambler Rose, featuring a 8 1/2 month pregnant lead singer/percussionist, took the stage while we were finishing up our dinner.

Whip In definitely offers a unique dining/drinking/listening/shopping experience you can’t find anywhere else. Upon first impression, the spot seems to be a bit all over the board, and unable to decide what it is and what it wants to be when it grows up. But whatever it is, I like it. And I hope to visit another place like it some day.

Pre-Shutdown Weekend at Padre Island National Seashore

Tent site above the beach

Tent site above the beach

Undoubtedly, there are thousands of blog posts flying around in a political uproar over the federal government shutdown. Although there’s a political science degree hanging on my wall, this is not a political blog and it never will be.

But as I sit here on Shutdown Day 2, one particular closure hits close to home.

Sunset stroll

Sunset stroll

 

I spent last weekend at Padre Island National Seashore near Corpus Christi, Texas. I packed up for home on Monday, as scheduled, which happened to be the day before the Shutdown. I must admit I’m having a hard time believing that the beautiful place that I called home for four days is now barricaded and vacant.

Pavilion setup - #24

Pavilion setup – #24

I wish I could provide you with a link to the campground I stayed at, but as with all of the national parks, the Padre Island website has been replaced with this ominous closure message:

Due to the lapse in appropriated funds, all public lands managed by the Interior Department (National Parks, National Wildlife Refuges, Bureau of Land Management facilities, etc.) will be closed. For more information, FAQs, and updates, please visit www.doi.gov/shutdown.

 

Malaquite campground

Malaquite campground

So until those idiots pull their heads out of their asses, I guess you’ll just have to take my word for it.

Malaquite Campground is the main campground inside the national seashore boundaries, and it’s situated along the dunes of the Gulf of Mexico.

It’s a semi-primitive campground with fifty sites: eight are tent-only and twenty-six can accommodate RVs. You can’t make advance reservations here, so you have to take your chances and show up to see what’s available.

Sites cost $8 per night here, but you do have the “luxury” of flush toilets and cold-water pump showers. In actuality, these are the most luxurious campsites because the other camping areas have zilch for amenities.

Bird!

Bird!

The best place to kayak is Bird Island, but head to the windsurfing area and not the boat launch. You can put in anywhere along the shallow shore, and the waves are much calmer than over at Malaquite.

You can also camp over here at Bird Island, which has a couple pit toilets and a kayak rental shop, but not much else. Be prepared to shell out $5 at the front gate to do any of the above at Bird Island.

If you’re looking for a deal, you can camp for free at North Beach, but you’re pretty far from the facilities if you’re shy about pooping outside. It’s also totally acceptable to drive ON the beach, so your tent could very well come in contact with a Ford F-150.

Footsteps in sand

Footsteps in sand

When I asked a park ranger for hiking suggestions, I was reminded that there are seventy miles of undeveloped coastline to tread along. Silly me. Turns out, this was my favorite part of the park. The sand wasn’t too hot, the waves refreshing, the beaches uncrowded, and the water clean(ish).

Apparently, there are 380 species of birds here, but I can’t recall seeing more than four or five. You can find lots of crabs in the sand and along the shore here. They come in a variety of colors and sizes, and I even had the pleasure of chasing one of out of my shower with a flashlight!

Crab!

Crab!

There’s no denying that the mosquitoes were horrendous. Spray yourself with insect repellent ’til it seeps from your pores, but it won’t even make a difference. It’s also crazy windy here, especially when setting up a tent, so don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Rogue tree in the gulf

Rogue tree in the gulf

Padre Island National Seashore felt like one of the last undeveloped places of its kind. It could have easily turned into another Miami Beach, with sprawling hotels, cocktail bars, and tourist shops.

However, this place was a true example of nature at its finest. To me, there are few finer things in life than waking up on the sand to the sounds of crashing waves and the first rays of morning light.

Political commentary aside, I truly hope that this and the other national parks will be reopened soon so we can continue having these experiences and loving the good parts of our country.

Sunset on Padre Islanad

Sunset on Padre Islanad