To be on a massive floating hotel, seeing the huge anchors for the first time, the wonder of seeing inside the cruise ship for the first time and the best part is how much the staff cater to their guests. Going on a cruise makes any traveler feel like they have hit the height of their financial glory! Yet there are a lot of fees that are tacked on, after you pay the initial fee for the trip that many first time cruisers don’t know about. There are also the rules on tenders, drinks, gratuities and so much more that I wish I would have known before taking my first cruise. After traveling all over the world on several different cruise lines, seven different cruises, and during different seasons and hemispheres – here are my travel hacks for first time cruisers.
Booking Your First Cruise
First step is booking your cruise. I would pick out the cruises that you want to go on, even if they are your dream cruise or they are super expensive. Write them down, and head over to Cruise Fair Monitor. This website will track your cruise prices for you, to search for the lowest possible fare. Simply put your destination, desired dates, length of cruise, and even the cruise line you wish to cruise with and emails will be sent with stellar discounts are available.
If you book right around the holidays (Thanksgiving and Christmas) your cruise will be much cheaper.
If you have more than two people going with you, then your going to find that your total cost of the cruise will be significantly reduced. Just be sure to let the cruise ship know that there will be 4 people, or 3 people with you. Some rooms don’t have more than just the two beds for single person to fit. They would need to put you in a room that had the fold down bunk beds (for four people), or the rooms with a couch (three people).
Ships that are repositioning, going over the transatlantic and even last minute deals are going to be incredibly affordable. I have some friends that scored a transatlantic cruise for around $201 total! While that was several years ago, it is still possible to find incredible deals if you diligently look.
If you are trying to book a cruise right during the busy season, then call the cruise ship booking agent and ask for a “guaranteed stateroom” to get the absolute lowest price on whichever cabin type you’re interested in (inside, outside, balcony, suite). With this type of room you are guaranteed a room within that particular type of stateroom range or higher. What’s the catch? Well you don’t get to choose the cabin’s exact location on the ship. This could mean a balcony, but it could be under the dance floor, or have an obstructed view (aka life boats are in the way).
I highly suggest calling the booking agent and asking them what side of the ship they would suggest for the best views on the way to the last destination. Also ask them which room has an unobstructed view, and the rooms that are further away from the elevators. When people drink too much, they get loud. If you can, get a balcony room. You can watch the wildlife of the ocean from the comfort of your room and don’t have to take photos through the window of the dining area, or the plexi glass put up to prevent people from climbing over the railing. Otherwise the few spots that are unobstructed, you are typically fighting all the other passengers for that perfect photo.
Travel Insurance For Your Cruise
There are a lot of reasons to get insurance for your airline flight, but why would you need travel insurance for your Cruise? Well with how frequently cruises have been in the news, let me just remind you of a few reasons as to why you SHOULD get travel insurance.
What if you get sick while on the ship, and need to see the ship’s doctor. What if break your ankle on land, but don’t want to miss the ship and end up going to the doctor on the ship – your going to end up with a massive medical bill.
If you miss your flight, and then miss your ship – travel insurance should fly you to the next port. It can also cover the cost of your cruise should you have to cancel it.
There was a couple that had their luggage taken from the cruise ship staging ground and it was taken to the wrong ship. So they went on a 2 week trip with just the clothes they had bought with the minimal clothing they were able to find in the cruise gift shop. The cruise did happen to provide a $100 gift card for the mistake, but trip insurance can reimburse you for the full cost of the clothing you had to purchase from lost luggage.
Culture Trekker Tip: Don’t book trip insurance with the cruise ship. They often have minimal coverage and is very expensive. It doesn’t cover your pre or post trip, nor your flights to or from the trip. You need to specifically ask the cruise ship to NOT include their trip insurance. I suggest using World Nomads Travel Insurance, because you can tailor make it to your trip and activities you plan to participate in.
Solo Traveler Cruising
It is more expensive to travel as a solo cruiser, but more and more ships are realizing not everyone has a special someone or family that can afford to travel. There are also some hard core cruising Facebook groups that people are looking for someone to travel with. If you book a group tour cruise, then you can typically find someone to room with in those groups.
If not, then here are a few cruise ships starting to offer passage for solo travel crusiers.
Norwegian Cruise Line
Royal Caribbean International
Seabourn Cruise Line
Packing for A Cruise
While there are amenities like laundry services available, if you are wanting to save a little money – bring laundry soap, color catcher sheets (temperatures aren’t reliable), clothesline and pins from the $1 store for hanging things in room. Get a balcony room so you can air out the room for drying things off and two swimming suits to trade off while . I would also ask a cruise agent if they use tokens or quarters for the laundry room. Getting tokens on our last cruise was the hardest part. The tokens often run out, and you are left to go fight the crowds at the concierge desk for more.
There is typically only one plug available in a cruise ship, so traditionally people would bring power strips. The power strips with surge protectors are now banned, but there are a few like this power strip that are Cruise ship approved. So be sure you bring this one otherwise your other power strip will be confiscated.
Some cruise ships are still working on allowing notifications being able to be delivered to the other members of your party through their app. Walkie talkies tend to not work, as the frequencies get lost between the metal floors and structure. So bringing a pen and sticky notes, or a small white board to leave notes for other people in your party in case they come back to the room and/or can’t find you is one of the best things you can do. Along with this, it is also a good idea to bring a watch, or a phone with a clock that you can all set to the ships clock. This will save you on missing the boat, missing shows, and more. The crew goes by the captains clock, so be sure you are back at least an hour before they say they will depart.
Over the door organizer this is a life saver if you have more than a few people in your cruise cabin, especially kids. This gives each person 3-4 pockets they can store shampoo, toiletries, or extra shoes/flip flops in. You can over the door organizers on amazon, or at the dollar store.
Many people don’t realize the walls of the cruise cabin are actually made of metal. So bringing magnets to post up pictures of the dog at home, the daily schedule, or even hooks that you can string up an extra clothes line to let clothes/snorkel gear dry out. These are the metal hooks I use.
I wish I would have had binoculars on my last cruise, it would have made seeing the Manta Rays, jelly fish and all the other sea life on the cruise of South America so much easier to see from the 15th floor. I would also highly suggest bringing a reusable travel straw to save a few more non-recyclable plastic pieces going in the ocean. While your at it, stuffing a pair of reusable silverware (I suggest Bamboo silverware) for shore.
I used to bring Tupperware to take a roll or sandwich to shore, but they do not allow this any longer. Now I just bring protein bars for shore excursions if I’m tied up having an adventure, or can’t find something that doesn’t have peppers in it.
You have to think of how much parking in an abandoned dock is going to cost you while your gone. Sometimes the parking can start at $140 for 7 day cruise. You also have to take into account the traffic in the area, on the way to the cruise ship. The ship will have 2000-4000 other people arriving at the same time. If there is more than one cruise ship going out that day, then there could be more people arriving all at the same time.
I suggest allowing at least 3-4 hours prior to the ship leaving to get in and to the port. I wouldn’t suggest getting a taxi at the port if you are disembarking, the taxi drivers know your desperate. This is for those cruise ships who are relocating, or will only be going one way and not round trip. Will you have to fly back to the airport you departed from, and then pay to make your way to the dock as well? It is definitely something to think about if you are looking for transportation to or from the dock, or will be parking near the port.
I would also consider the safety of your vehicle in a parking lot at a working port. These areas are commonly abandoned, and have cars broken into if they are not guarded 24/7 while your gone. These guarded areas are more expensive, but well worth the peace of mind.
Drinks on a Cruise
Drinking while on a cruise is quite common, you will see loads of people doing it. The cruise ship will often give you a credit to use on board. What many people don’t realize, is that each and every time you buy a soda or alcoholic beverage – they will automatically add 15% gratuity to the bill.
Limit yourself to only having alcoholic beverages at night or every other night or just on the formal nights. You make the rules, and both your waistline and pocketbook will thank you. If you try to buy an unlimited alcoholic beverage package before the ship, everyone else listed in your room will have to buy one as well.
Regular coffee on the ship is typically free, but a speciality drink like a Latte is going to cost more.
Culture Trekker Tip: Buy the drink buckets with beer, which are far more affordable and come in a variety of packages. You can also brink one bottle of wine or 750ml champagne bottle per person on board.
You can also bring Starbucks insta-latte packets and just ask for hot water. If you are a soda drinker, then stop by a store on the way to your port and get a 12 pack of soda. Just ask your room porter for a bucket of ice if you like a cold drink.
Motion Sickness on a Cruise
I have an entire article on motion sickness and ways that you can treat it while traveling. You have to ensure that if you are prone to motion sickness while traveling, then it is imperative to treat yourself before you get on the ship.
There are some people who claim that getting in the pool if the waters aren’t too crazy, can help with the inner ear issue. It can help with calming the feeling of motion sickness. If the waves in the pool are too aggressive, then the cruise ships may close down the pool, so just keep this in mind.
Get Away From the Crowd
While vacations are great, I am one who likes to get away from the crowds and have some alone time. Just to unwind, be present in my own thoughts, and just enjoy the sound of the ocean lapping against the boat. Places I highly recommend going are the aft and bow of the ship. They tend to be two very overlooked places to relax onboard. The Library during mealtimes and/or the side of the anytime eating that is closed when the ship switches from lunch to dinner.
Get in the hot tub during movies to stay warm on the cold nights on the ship instead of snuggling under a blanket. Getting in the pool when it is raining, or going to the pool that isn’t the easiest one to get to is also a great option.
Avoid the buffet on the first day, eat before you get on the ship. It is going to be a mad house of people gorging themselves on their first ship meal. I suggest going to a specialty restaurant for the first day instead as a way to celebrate your first cruise in style. Just make sure there is one that will be open on the first day of the cruise.
How to Not Gain Weight On a Cruise
Weigh yourself as soon as you get on board so you can keep tabs of any weight gain during the cruise. This a particularly good idea if you’re on a longer cruise, it gives you strict accountability. I also tend to wake up early on each day at sea to workout, and if we are docking/arriving in port later in the day I will typically workout as well.
Something else I love doing, is signing up for the cycle classes, you can burn up to 1000 calories in an hour participating in one of these. You can go as fast or as slow as you want, it is easy on the joints, and you won’t lose your balance if the ship is rocking.
The first day is always a freebie for me, but after that I make a rule to always use the stairs…no excuses.
Take your FitBit or bring along an inexpensive pedometer to track all your steps and calories burned. You may be surprised at just how much walking you can unconsciously do on a big ship! Make a goal of walking at least 10,000 steps a day. Typically there is a good track around the outside of the ship you can walk. Just be careful of the wet floor from the waves, especially on stormy nights.
Ask for the early dinner times, so you aren’t eating really late. Also ask your waiter to avoid bringing bread to your table, if your with a large party – then just make a rule you can only have it WITH your meal, not before.
Sign up for classes, take advantage of the massage discounts once you get on board – the days you have shore excursions will be cheaper than sea days.
DIY Shore Excursions
Always look at your itinerary and see if the ship requires you to tender to shore. Those who utilize the ships excursions are always the first ones allowed to get off the ship. So take that into account should you DIY your own excursions. I would suggest doing your own excursions as much as possible, unless it is an excursion that is a small group.
I have found when I do my own excursion, there are less people around, I enjoy it more, and I can go off the beaten path a little more.
Keep in mind that the port may not be close to town, and the ships may have paid the port authorities to block the transport you paid for from picking you up – or dropping you off at night. There have been several ports I have watched people RUN all the way down the dock, to make it just in time onto the ship, just as they were pulling in the loading ramp.
There are a few guidelines to doing my own shore excursions. I will look on Trip Advisor for “Shore excursions in ______”. If it says shore excursions, then I contact the company via email. Let them know what day I’m coming in, and what times we will be in port. I will typically give them a time that is 1.5 hours prior to when we are supposed to leave, that way I have a little time for souvenir shopping & know if we run into problems or traffic that I still have a small window to reach the ship.
When you are scanning yourself off the ship, be sure to check the time on your watch to the crews ship. I will bring a watch, because I take so many videos and photos that I end up with 2% battery. I do have an external battery on my phone, but the watch is a surefire way to keep good track of the time.
Cutting Costs on a Cruise and Things You Need To Know
Unfortunately, your cruise fare doesn’t include every activity that happens on the ship, which can be disappointing for some people. There are things like the cycling classes, art classes, IMAX theater, BINGO, murder mystery dinners or wine tastings that will require an extra fee. So be sure to factor that into your budget, as each activity is designed by the cruise director, and could be confirmed with the cruise agent upon booking which activities will require a fee.
If you are bringing kids on the ship, and think you will want babysitting -it will cost you an hourly rate on some ships.
Specialty restaurants such as steakhouses, Italian restaurants, chefs table experiences, or Sushi will all cost you more money.
Cruise ships have now started to pre-authorize $200-$300 for each passenger on the ship. If you get below $200 then they will keep re-authorizing it at each port. So I suggest you go ahead and put the money on your account prior to boarding, that way you avoid any overspending of the budget while onboard where it is very easy to blow a lot of money. (They don’t call them floating piggy banks for nothing).
If you pay the porter $5-$6 and when you get to your room, your bags will be there so much faster than if you just waited for them. I have personally never had an issue with this, but if you see other bags showing up at a neighbors cabin and not yours – well…..I would start asking where you luggage is and if it got on the right ship.
Tips and Gratuities Quick Guide
Tips and gratuities will be automatically deducted from your card on file at the end of the trip, unless you tell the customer service desk otherwise. You can also tip the staff directly, because the tips are shared among the staff. It is pretty shocking to hear what they make, how many hours they spend working and who they are trying to support at home. Here is a quick guide on how much each person who helps you should be tipped.
Suite attendant: $7.25 USD a day per guest Stateroom attendant: $5.00 USD a day per guest Dining Room Waiter: $3.75 USD a day per guest Assistant Waiter: $2.15 USD a day per guest Headwaiter: $0.75 USD a day per guest
Wifi On Board a Cruiseship
WiFi packages on board are so incredibly expensive, it could easily add a couple of hundred dollars to your bill. There are a few tricks to minimize your usage and still keep in touch though.
You can use the internet for 30 seconds or less and it won’t deduct from your time. So quickly get online download your emails, then get offline and read them.
If you need to send an email, pre-write the email in your notes, then paste it into your email after you connect, quickly disconnect after the email is on its way.
Please keep in mind the internet on the ship is INCREDIBLY slow. I would also suggest to buy it beforehand for a 10-15% discount.
If you put your phone on airplane mode and turn on WiFi and you can still get push notifications — you just won’t be able to respond to messages, but at least your will still be able to see when someone messages you. That way you are still slightly connected, even if you don’t exactly pay for the WiFi.
Connect your computer through your phone when your in port, for free internet while in port. Just use your phones data plan, but keep in mind it may cost you more if you don’t have an international plan and are traveling into a different country.
You can also purchase a WiFi If your phone carrier doesn’t include free international plans. I am personally considering making the switch to the new Google Fi phone plan, which includes international roaming in nearly every country where cruises go. Google Fi plans typically are about $20 per month, plus just $10 for every gig of data used. And there’s no contract so you can use it just for a month or just for a cruise and cancel. It would be worth it to sign up, just for peace of mind – especially if you have little ones at home.
Other First Time Cruiser Tidbits
Download the app for the cruise beforehand, so you don’t have to use the expensive WiFi to do so. Most ships have these apps, and even have in app messaging that you can use to contact other people in your party.
If you need cash, avoid the ATM costs ($15 to withdraw cash), buy your money you need in chips then take it over to the cashier and you will only be charged $3 instead of $15 to get the money out of your bank.
These are all the tips and travel hacks for first time cruisers that I can think of right now. I will regularly update this post with each cruise I go on, to give you the most up to date and relevant information. So be sure to bookmark this page, and check back before your cruise for a refresher. If you have any cruise tips I missed, feel free to jot them down in the comment section below. Love having other Culture Trekkers contribute to a better travel experience for all. Cheers and Bon Voyage on your first Cruise!
This tiny town at the southernmost point of Peru is one of the best-held secrets. Here are a few ideas for your shore excursions in Pisco Peru that you really do not want to miss out on. While there are plenty of ideas that the ship gives you, many of them are not as relaxing, overcrowded and VASTLY overpriced.
Tambo Colorado is one of the best-preserved Inca Ruins in Peru, because of only getting 1/4″ of rainfall each year. There is still red, white, and yellow paint clearly visible along with original wood from the time of the Incas. This was a major trade route along the river, and the fertile grounds surrounding the area were a major source for religion and resources.
See The Wild Life on a Pisco Shore Excursion
The beaches of Pisco, because of the low tourism here, have been a safe haven for wildlife to have their young. There is so much wildlife, you could make 2 excursions just to see it all.
Flamingos are one of these animals that you can see their babies plodding along the shores picking at the crabs there. You can tell they are babies, by the grey color of their feathers. They only begin to turn pink once they have eaten crab for a number of weeks.
This is home to the endangered Humbolt Penguin, who loves to make its home in the century-old Guano made from the Guanay who also frequent this island. If you have ample time, you can also catch a glimpse of the only living otter that lives in saltwater – the Gato Marino or “Sea Cat”.
While this was a viable option for our shore excursion, because it is a protected area you are not able to get out of the boats. From those who went on this excursion they reported that while it was neat to see so many animals in such a small area, and the sea wolves (or South American Sea Lions) – the sun really wore the cruisers out. The boats here don’t typically have shade, so make sure to bring an umbrella. I would also bring a mask as the smell from the Guano baking in the sun was reportedly quite pungent as well.
There are occasional Humpback whales that pass through this area on their migrational journey – but because of the busy shipping port that is Pisco, it is difficult to catch them.
When our cruise ship was heading out, our ship went through a massive bloom of jellyfish. The jellyfish we were going by were so big I could clearly see their red, yellow, and white tentacles and bell-shaped heads. My master diver friend I was with, said the Jellyfish were easily 3-4 feet long if not more.
The Nasca people of this area lived from 1 AD to 700 AD, creating mysterious designs in the desert sands in Paracas Peru. Many of the lines are formed from shallow trenches that are 4-6 inches deep (10-15cm). The top layer of the sand, made of the reddish-brown iron oxide-coated pebbles, is removed and the contrasting white sand below lets you see the lines from the air.
There are a total of 300 geometric figures, and 70 different designs of animals, plants and other items. Some of the lines are up to 30 miles long, and designs ranging from 50-1200 feet in length. Some designs are as big as the Empire State building.
This is why the designs were not well studied until the invention of flight in the 1930s. Some believe they are in line with the sun, others believe they align with the stars. There is still a lot of mystery surrounding the Nazca lines. Despite being 2000 years old, the designs still remain intact because of how minimal the rainfall is.
Dune Buggy Riding in Pisco Desert
To say I didn’t know what I was getting myself into with a Dune Buggy Ride is a vast understatement. If you have heart issues or high blood pressure, I DO NOT RECOMMEND going on one of these rides.
This is a ride that brings you to the brink of what physics allows to be possible in the presence of gravity. The hot desert sands, shift under the wheels while the demon driver in the front seems to feel he isn’t doing his job if you aren’t screaming in terror.
Not physically being able to say ‘Please stop’ because of the fear coursing through my body is literally how this ride felt. It is difficult to see and anticipate when the next drop off into oblivion is going to happen upon you.
I think they were excited to scare the crap out of us because at first, we didn’t think we needed seat belts. That is how naive we were about this ride. Please watch the video below, and watch how much the skyline pitches from one side to the other. It will give you an idea of how the ride is but is grossly under-represented.
Would I do it again? Ab-so-freaking-lutely! We rode with AdrenArena and felt completely safe the whole time.
Other Shore Excursion Options
Looking at other options on Trip Advisor, Viator, Websites – there is plenty to do in Pisco. While there aren’t many organized companies there – sometimes it can be just meeting up with locals in the town.
AdventurArena has desert dinners, there are Jet Ski Tours, you can take a drive along the coastline through the Paracas Desert National Preserve. At first, I didn’t think there was much to do in Pisco and would be one of the most boring shore excursions. Once we got there, went on our shore excursions I think Pisco became one of my favorite places we visited.
Your trip is what you make it, so don’t just follow the herd of cattle at the excursions office with the boat. The locals all know when the boats come in and how important it is to get you back to the ship in time. So take a chance and you might just find yourself on some of the greatest adventures
Going to Boston was not something I hadn’t really planned on doing in the middle of summer. I was going for a Travel Conference and knew I wouldn’t have a lot of time to see the sites around or near the venue. So I got online and found that Grayline had a New England Coast Day Trip from Boston that left at a few hours after I arrived. I was coming in on a Red-Eye flight, and knew I wouldn’t have a lot of energy to walk the Freedom Trail, but didn’t want to waste the time sleeping in a hotel lobby somewhere. The bus seemed like a perfect mix of relaxation, and effective use of time.
Arriving in Boston
The flight there was TERRIBLE! The guy next to me wouldn’t quit fidgeting, moving, coughing, and was one of those people that puts their elbows out as far as they can to have more space. So I didn’t sleep that well on the flight out and was even more grateful I was going to have a relaxing morning on my New England Coast Day Trip from Boston.
Getting to the Boston airport, was truly a beautiful approach into the city with the Boston Bay below and the city surrounded by water. I knew it was a port city but didn’t realize just how much the city revolves around the water. From the nights by the Charles River Esplanade to the massive ponds, lakes and reflecting pools dotting the city – it is a photographer’s dream.
Meeting Our Grayline Bus Pilot
This was my first time taking a Grayline Bus for a tour along the New England Coast. The only other tour I have taken where a bus was involved was when I was touring Jordan. I still remember how badly I had to battle motion sickness on that trip, I made sure I picked a seat near the front of the bus.
Our driver for the day, was a quiet, focused, and friendly former 747 retired pilot, who was also in the Air Force back in the day. I can’t recall his name right now but will call him Paul the Pilot.
Paul towered above me about 6’1″, to my 5’4″ frame. He wore glasses, had a wide mouth, and a kindly Grandpa like face. He had squinty eyes, grey hair, and was constantly looking at his watch, with the timeliness of departures, and schedules just as you would expect from someone with his background.
Hampton Beach, New Hampshire
After all passengers were accounted for Paul introduced himself and we were on the road to tour the New England Coast. On the way to Hampton Beach, we passed by New Hampshire Harbor, where the movie, The Perfect Storm, was based. The Perfect Storm follows the true story of men who were from Massachusetts that had been out fishing for Swordfish. They had gone out to check the Swordfish lines, pulled in their catch, and were heading back to shore when the low-pressure system started to encroach on their fishing grounds. A hurricane came racing up the coast catching many people off guard, and because their ice machine broke down, they were not able to seek a safe harbor; otherwise, they would lose their catch and all the money with it. Unfortunately, the men never made it back to land.
Our first official stop was the Sand Art Competition at Hampton Beach in New Hampshire. The sand art competition is in its 19th year, where master sculptors from around the world come together to create masterpieces. It started out as a commissioned piece for celebrating the newly minted coin of New Hampshire and has since turned into a visual spectacle every year.
It isn’t just sand art that you can enjoy though, there are plenty of activities at Hampton Beach. You can visit the arcade, try saltwater taffy, fry bread, and plenty of delicious seafood for even the pickiest palate. You can also volunteer to pick up trash, catch a show on the beach, or visit the Discovery Ocean Center (open 12-7).
You can swim in the ocean here, but I would highly recommend using a wet suit, because of how cold the water is. This area can also be quite dangerous with the strong rip tides, so be sure to watch the flag warnings. There are also a lot of sea lions in the area, which also attract Great White sharks for feeding. So be aware, and be safe should you choose to take a dip in the ocean.
Nubble Lighthouse in York Maine
With Maines rocky shoreline, and the economy relying heavily on the imports, it was very important to its citizens to have a lighthouse. After a passionate petition to the government, they were granted $15,000 to complete the lighthouse. The Nubble Lighthouse was completed July 1, 1879, and has since become a symbol of both unity and community.
The Lighthouse was initially manned by the US coastguard and their families. After the lighthouse became automated, the last keeper of the lighthouse left in 1987. After which the lighthouse was placed on the National Register of Historic Places to help preserve it. The only time you can walk to the lighthouse is when it is low tide, otherwise, you would have to get there by a small boat.
The lighthouse is very unique in that instead of the traditional yellow light, the light is red. The red helps to cut through the fog at night that tends to commonly roll into Maine, with even the slightest change in temperature. The light rotates every 2 seconds day and night.
If you get a chance to visit the gift shop, be sure to say hello Prince of New England, Bill Thompson. This 93-year-old gem paints pictures of the lighthouse and sells them for $10-$15 apiece to help upkeep and maintain the lighthouse.
Each painting has a story behind it, and The Prince of New England makes sure you know what the story is prior to letting you purchase the painting. He showed me one painting that depicted a seagull named Charlie. Charlie would follow the postmaster from his truck to the gift shop every day. He would wait until the postmaster was finished and then follow him back out to his car. One day the postmaster forgot to roll up his window before going into the gift shop, and when he came back out – Charlie was sitting in the front seat. The postmaster said, ‘ok, well, let’s go Charlie’ and they drove to the next stop.
The Prince of New England concluded his story about Charlie then grabbed my hand. He explained how he was grateful he met me because I have a light in my eyes that he said made his day.
These are the type of connections that really make traveling worthwhile to me. When you can meet a random stranger, who has a kind soul, and words don’t necessarily need to be said – but you understand them, and they understand you. This is why I agree wholeheartedly in calling Mr. Bill Thompson the Prince of New England.
I was reluctant to leave the Nubble Lighthouse but was excited for our next stop on our New England Coast Day Trip to Kennebunkport Maine. This was once a bustling harbor in the 1890s. It offered a safe place for shipbuilders to build new ships with deep water access to the ocean during high tide. A bridge in the middle of town was once a drawbridge used to let the ships pass from Kennebunkport to the lower town of Kennebunk. Be sure you don’t call it Kennebunk, as the locals are very proud to call it Kennebunkport and feel the towns are very different (especially the people in them).
The shipbuilders would typically haul coal, pine, and cotton to locations around the world. If you want to learn more about the shipping industry of days past, I would suggest visiting the Kennebunkport historical society and the Brick store museum. There are so many hidden gems like the White House and the public library, just wandering through town is the best way to see Kennebunkport.
The White House is one of the most unique buildings in Kennebunkport (or at least I think so). It is the same home that has been in this area for the last 130 years. The last known Perkins relative to live in the home kept all the clothing, furniture, and mementos in the home and gifted the home with all the contents to the Kennebunkport Historical Society. However, she required that all items within the home, stay in the home permanently.
So when you visit, be sure to go on a tour of the home (the last tour is at 3 pm) – you will feel that you have been transported back 130 years when you enter the home. While I missed the last tour by 15 minutes the lady at the gift shop told me all about the home, the town and why the house was so important. I really want to go back and do a proper tour of the house, because it sounds fascinating that even the clothes from when her, and her siblings were small children are still eerily preserved.
As I walked along the streets, I couldn’t believe how incredible each corner of the town was for photos. I guess you could say it is one of the most Instagrammable towns I have ever been to. The cottages lining the streets looked like houses that could be in a Christmas Storybook, the yards were perfectly manicured, and the people were incredibly friendly.
I let myself get lost in the city and found a great little Public Library. I took a few pictures of the outside, then started to talk to some people decorating the patio. They were locals and explained the history of the building. It was built in 1813 as a bank originally, then turned into a customs office for the ship cargo that would come into town.
It was then turned into a free public library. If you go up into the Children’s area, you will see some impressionistic paintings by Louis T Graves from the 1930s that show popular children’s stories scenes depicted. These paintings are still incredibly vivid and have never been retouched.
What to Eat in Kennebunkport
The seafood here is incredible, and I would definitely plan on getting some sort of clam and lobster. The Lobster in Maine is some of the best, because of the cold waters off their coastline – it causes the Lobster to be very sweet to the taste and not as rubbery.
Our guide highly recommended the Pilot House. This family-owned and run restaurant is just behind the CITI gas station as you are coming into town. It is easy to miss if you aren’t looking for it but is right by where you catch the whale watching tours. The Lobster dinners, Lobster rolls, and other meals are VERY reasonably priced from $8.99 to $18.99. I did look at some of the other places in town and the meals were far more expensive for the same kind of food. The Lobster is locally caught by those from Kennebunkport, so it is less of an impact on the marine ecosystems.
The locals come to this place to grab a beer, a bite to eat, and to watch a game. The waiters and waitresses make you feel as if you are part of the family when you walk in the door, even some giving you a side hug as you leave. I know this is weird, but if you go into the bathroom, they have a huge frame full of different types of knots that are used on a ship.
Spirit of Massachusetts
If you are able to stay into the early evening, then I suggest stopping by one of the most unique bars I have been to – the Spirit of Massachusetts. This 125 foot Schooner was first introduced in 1984 and has both food and drink available, along with a series of different events and shows they regularly put on.
Ice Cream and Blue Berries
A huge surprise to me was that Blueberries are a big deal in Maine because of the sweetness. In fact, Dreyers Ice Cream gets its supply of blueberries from Maine. So while in town, finish off your visit with a sweet treat from Aunt Marie’s Ice Cream. This little shop is tucked away into a corner behind all the shops on the main stretch of road, and there were about 15-20 locals consistently coming through at any given point. (Address: 10 Ocean Ave Kennebunkport Maine 04046)
Patten’s Berry Farm with the Princess of New England
Our bus driver also claims that there is a Princess of New England Coast as well. When you head back to Boston, there is a small fruit and flower stand on the side of the road called Patten’s Berry Farm.
Mrs. Patten, 92 years old, has been tending the family farm, canning and selling the products at the fruit stand since she was a girl. If you stop, you will see just how much care she puts into making every flower pot perfect, each can of fruit is perfectly positioned, and large blueberry and apple pies are placed near the register.
Making our way further along the New England Coast – we stopped briefly across the way from Walker Point. The temperature had changed, and of course, the fog rolled so apologizes for the poor photo. This is the summer residence of former US President George Bush.
Their family bought this area 120 years ago and has morphed into a place of refuge for the Bushs. When we drove by this place, we were able to see that there were three secret service cars near the entrance. There was also an American Flag on the building as well. Paul the Pilot (our guide), told us this is how you can tell that the Bushs were at Walker Point that day.
Back to Boston
After a long, but wonderful, day of our New England Coast Day Trip from Boston, Paul the Pilot gave us an opportunity to take a snooze on the way back into Boston. I zonked out quickly and enjoyed the downtime to refresh before a hectic week at the conference.
Paul dropped us off at key points within the city, close to our respective hotels, where the bus was able to fit. I was reluctant to leave because he was so kind and it had been such a relaxing day. For the cost, I think the trip was well worth it. The pick-up and drop-off were seamless, the time at each stop was perfect, and we were able to get back to Boston at a reasonable time around 7-8pm. Just in time for me to meet up with friends attending the conference, for dinner. So if you are in the Boston area, and are looking for a New England Coast Tour Day Trip from Boston. I cannot recommend utilizing this company and service enough. This was not a sponsored trip in any way, I genuinely enjoyed my time on my New England Coast Tour with Grayline.
“You have to howl!” Sheri screamed up at me as I summited my first climbing route in Joshua Tree National Park. This would make a lasting impression on me for the rest of my life, to throw caution to the wind and celebrate the accomplishments we have in life, out loud and proud. I could write a book about Sheri, following her adventures of van life from San Diego to San Pedro, and making her home in Lake Atitlan. The story I want to tell you about though is one of true compassion, connecting cultures, and empowering the women in San Pedro La Laguna with Sheri’s Company – She Rides Dragons.
Sheri Keller and She Rides Dragons
Sheri is a wanderer at heart, but somehow San Pedro and the people in this town stole her heart and she chose to stay. Once there, it wasn’t long before she started making friends. One of her closest friends is Dora, a Spanish teacher, and seamstress who has a smile that will light up the whole room when she allows you to see it.
After several months exploring San Pedro and the other small villages in Lake Atitlan, Sheri discovered the Mayan textiles and an idea began to form. After a lot of trial and error, and drawing on her resources in San Diego, she was able to set up a clothing company called She Rides Dragons. I will explain that name a little later.
Sheri is a Yoga teacher, juggler and all-out fabulous performer that brings magic with her wherever she goes, which fits in perfectly with the backpacking town of San Pedro. So naturally making yoga bags, and other clothing items with Mayan adorned symbols was the next step along her incredible journey.
Collaborating For A Cause
Little did I know, that after following Sheri’s journey of fulfilling her dreams – she had started to follow me as I pursued my dreams of being a travel writer, photographer, and videographer – She would ask me to be a brand ambassador for her company, She Rides Dragons.
I was just starting out but flabbergasted that this woman that I had held in my mind as a goddess of adventure was asking me to collaborate with her for a cause. I, of course, agreed, right after I pulled my jaw back up off the floor and re-attached it to my face.
I received one of her clothing items, a full-length ritual robe, exquisitely hand-crafted and designed with more attention to detail than some of the best brands I have seen. Colors are perfectly matched, the fabric is thick, heavy, and you can almost feel the magic of Lake Atitlan flowing out it.
I immediately messaged her when I received it and thanked her profusely. “Sheri I cannot believe how well made this is!” I was nearly bubbling over with excitement, she replied in her usual cool-as-a-cat way “I know, the women here do such a great job. I hope we can continue to make these because the money is so vital for these families”. This piqued my interest, as my first love has always been humanitarian work and travel for a cause.
Sheri explained that the culture in Lake Atitlan is one of strong patriarchal power. The men often drink, and work is often hard to find, with very little pay. For this reason, she specifically buys the fabric for her company from local women and hires local women as seamstresses to make the clothing and bags, weave the ‘tehido’ that become the tassels on those bags, and as translators to assist with different Mayan languages, of which there are many. Some of the Mayan women Sheri works with speak little or no Spanish and having a translator has been crucial in learning about the different textiles, peoples, and towns around Guatemala. The money that the women make goes straight into their pockets, not their husbands, and they decide how it gets spent.
The women put a lot of their income toward their children and putting food on the table. Many of the women have to weave and sew by the light of the fires they burn near their homes as they cannot afford electricity. If a guest comes, they will feed the guest before they feed the children. The families in Lake Atitlan are not beggars, they work for what they have…sometimes to their own detriment.
Sheri has a gift for observational power and has often found families in need of help. With connections all around the lake, she is constantly on the phone, in her ‘magic makers’ circle – trying to help the families and animals that need it the most. I think she tries to fix the major issues in San Pedro and Lake Atitlan because of how much love she has for this place. Her home has been a haven, an animal rescue, a place of creativity and love – and the people in the city all know her as a giving wonderful human being with boundless love and charity. It is hard for her to walk down the streets without people coming and thanking her for one thing or another.
Yet if you point these things out to her, she will often dismiss it as ‘oh its nothing’, or ‘it isn’t as much as I want to do here’.
Meet Dora – A Seamstress and Spanish Teacher extraordinaire
Dora was born and raised in San Pedro La Laguna. She is Sheri’s friend, a seamstress for She Rides Dragons and so much more. Sheri and Dora met at a Spanish school in San Pedro where Dora taught Spanish. It wasn’t until months later that Sheri discovered Dora was also a seamstress and the two of them began working together on She Rides Dragons.
Dora is so proud that she is able to provide food for her family, can afford electricity, has her own stove, and lives in a very good part of San Pedro. She is able to do much of this because of her work with She Rides Dragons, where she receives pay directly for her work.
Her greatest pride and joy though, is being able to provide a good education for her boys so they can have the best life possible. The best way to ensure survival in Lake Atitlan for the children is to provide education, otherwise, they will be forced to work in the cornfields and coffee farms on the steep slopes of the mountains and volcanoes that surround Lake Atitlan.
Dora is now trying to pass on the love, by getting her Aunt involved. Her sweet Aunt Maria only speaks Mayan and lives high up on the mountain. The home she lived in before her current one was no better than a shanty house with a roof. While she still cannot afford electricity at this time, she was able to afford cinder block floors, walls and a decent roof over her head with a real door. There is a small wood-burning stove on the balcony that she makes tortillas from every morning at 3 am to sell to the local shops so that her daughter can go to school.
There are 36 different dialects of the Mayan language that have survived in this area, and luckily Dora was able to translate from Mayan into Spanish and Sheri then translated into English for me. So trying to communicate in 3 different languages, and get the meaning across was quite comical but we made it work.
Maria, weaves all the tassels for the yoga bags by hand for Sheri. There are many different types of loom weaving that happen and the tradition is passed down over many generations. There are some loom weaving classes in the San Pedro area for tourists, but these women are the real heroes of this story.
Where Does the Fabric Come From?
The fabric for She Rides Dragons comes from all over Guatemala. Fortunately for Sheri, there are fabric markets that offer up incredible inventories so that she doesn’t have to travel to each town when she wants that town’s specific style of weaving or embroidery. There are also traveling saleswomen who visit San Pedro La Laguna. These women make their living by selling second-hand fabrics that their hometowns. The fabric markets, as well, mostly offer second-hand fabrics with a much smaller inventory of new fabrics. When the Mayan fabrics and clothing, huipils (blouses) and Cortes (dresses), are new they are so colorful and bright that you have shield your eyes from their glare when the sunlight touches them.
In order to get the best quality fabric, Sheri takes a 30-minute boat ride across Lake Atitlan – sometimes with waves so bad that people drop on their knees and start to pray (not joking) – to another town called Panajachel (Pa-na-ha-chel). Then it is a long hike up a hill to the fabric market. The market takes place twice a week at the fire station. Sheri has been coming here for four years and has developed a familiar relationship with one of the families that sell fabrics such that when she arrives they know exactly how much fabric Sheri needs, the kind she likes, and it is already, awaiting her inspection.
Sheri sifts through the fabric, sorting, swapping, matching, inspecting for frayed ends or imperfect patterns. After about an hour or so of choosing fabric, then it is a call to her partner, John to check on fabric funds. It is difficult to get cash in San Pedro, they do have an ATM, but can be spotty at best on if it is broken or not.
After some negotiating with the women for the amount of fabric she buys, the fabric is then loaded into large bags for transport back across the lake. I bought a few pieces myself while there because how can you resist the Mayan symbols of Dogs and Dragons!
Grabbing a Tuk-Tuk, we headed back to the dock to take a launcha (boat) back across the lake to San Pedro.
Sewing the Clothing
We hauled the bags back up the hill in San Pedro, grabbed another Tuk-Tuk, and went to Dora’s house to deliver the fabric. Sheri instructs Dora in Spanish once we arrive on the ideas she has for each set of fabric pieces she picked out. Dora makes notes, and patterns are pulled out and set near each pile of fabric.
After a long day, and the afternoon rains coming in we finally get to rest and eat some food. We head back to Sheri’s House. Yet the day doesn’t end there for Sheri, she isn’t one that can sit still for long – despite sometimes needing to. So she gets on the phone with Dora again, to see if she can arrange for another woman who sells huipils – the traditional blouses worn by the Mayan women in Guatemala – to meet with us the next day.
A Long Journey
The next day we head back to Dora’s House to meet with another inspirational woman, Rosa. It is a long journey for Rosa to meet with Sheri. She comes from a small town called Chajul (Cha-hool) that is about twelves hours away by bus. This is how Rosa makes her living, traveling around Guatemala and selling fabrics from her hometown of Chajul. The fabrics are gorgeous and coveted by many women all over Guatemala for their soft feel and durability. Sheri met Rosa 3 years ago when Rosa was traveling though San Pedro and selling fabrics at the Sunday market in San Pedro. Since that time they have developed a beautiful working relationship and Sheri is one of Rosa’s best customers, which is why she is willing to travel all the way from her home to see us.
Rosa arrives at Dora’s house with two large bags full of fabric, Cortes, and huipils. After greetings, how-are-yous, and some water to drink, Sheri, Dora, and Rosa begin looking through the bags. Sheri picks out the fabrics she thinks would be a perfect match for the Yoga bags. Carefully choosing symbols that she thinks would resonate with her ideal customers. After paying her for the items, Rosa takes the remaining fabrics and clothing to Panajachel to sell what she can at the fabric market. Then it is another long journey home, all to help feed her children and keep them from having to work on the farms.
Creating The Clothing Infused With Magic
There are many reports from those who visit Lake Atitlan that there is some kind of magical pull there. They have ‘odd’ dreams, and tend to live more on the wild side of life – yet the local community is very conservative and Catholic.
It sounds a little odd, and I didn’t believe it at first – but waking up the morning after I arrived and seeing the incredible Lake, it made me wonder if it was true. Lake Atitlan was made after a Super Volcano erupted, then imploded creating a caldera for the lake to be born. The lake itself is 1115 feet (389 meters) deep, and 11.2 mi × 5.0 mi (18 km × 8 km) surface.
The Sierra de Los Cuchumatanes mountain range surrounds this lake with the highest mountain, Atitlan Volcano, reaching an elevation of 12,588 feet (3,837 m). The name Atitlan is a Mayan word that means “the place where the rainbow gets its colors.” There are two other volcanoes that are also part of this range, Toliman volcano, and San Pedro Volcano.
There is so much Mayan folklore and stories that the local Mayans still believe about this place it is hard not to believe it yourself when you are there. The local mythology considers Lake Atitlan to be the birthplace of all creation.
So not only is the clothing and yoga bags that Sheri makes selectively handcrafted, it is done so in a place and by the people that have lived in this area since 300 BC. I really hate describing a place as ‘magical’ because I feel it is often overused – but there are two places I have been so far that I can truly use this with – one is Scotland, and the other is now Lake Atitlan.
A Force For Change
There aren’t many people I have met in my life that have inspired me as much as Sheri and the women of Lake Atitlan who help her. They have a hard life, compared to the rest of the world.
I asked Sheri why she named her company ‘She Rides Dragons’ and she explained the strength of Dragons and their ties to Magic. I think it is more than that though, she is a strong, beautiful woman who is tackling the problems in San Pedro that are much bigger than what one person should handle on their own. She is helping to empower Mayan women to create change in their hearts, their homes, and provides food for the table their children eat at. The children also get to have an education, giving them a chance at a better future than poverty and starvation. If this wasn’t enough, she also rescues dogs and cats in the area – pooling resources to help treat for worms, feeds them, bathes then and raises money to help neuter them. She is known for her healing abilities, yet has seen many animals not make it because of lack of education in the community.
This isn’t about a clothing company, it is about women in Lake Atitlan trying to ride these giant problems – dragon-sized problems. These problems are unruly, difficult beasts that tend to bury most people in depression and anxiety of the acutest kind. Yet Sheri has collected a group of people, women, and literally a whole community to help fight them and she is succeeding at it – even if she doesn’t always give herself credit for doing so.
How Can You Contribute?
Take a look at She Rides Dragons, buy some of the clothing she offers. Now that you know the attention to detail, the love poured into the clothing, and the magical place these items come from – it will be an item that will hold more meaning for you than any other piece in your closet.
If there isn’t anything, in particular, you would like to buy you can also donate to her cause. Her dream is to be able to hire 8 women, to change their lives, and so their children’s lives can change and it will balloon from there. If you would like to donate for Maria the weaver to get electricity, send the donation via PayPal to SheRidesDragons@gmail.com – and make a note for something, in particular, you would like to donate to.
If you would like to help with funding or volunteering at an animal hospital or donate to help with education on how to care for animals and recognize diseases – email SheRidesDragons@gmail.com and she can get you in touch with the right people there.
Also, if you are interested in learning Spanish, Dora is an excellent Spanish teacher and does online classes starting at $10 an hour. Please contact send me an email (email@example.com) and I will connect you to her. I started taking lessons from her and think she is an absolutely incredible Spanish teacher. It is difficult but immersive and I’m learning quickly.
Fall is one of my favorite times of year, a season of warm blankets, hot chocolate, Halloween and beautiful color. It might be hard to pick where to take a scenic road trip for fall colors in the USA. I have put together the top 15 places to see fall colors in the United States for you to make it easy and a dreamy vacation. So grab your cup of hot cocoa, light the fire, and let us explore where your next adventure will be.
Utah Road Trips for Fall Colors
American Fork Canyon, Logan Canyon, Park City Utah, Sundance Utah these are all the places I can unequivocally recommend for seeing Fall colors for the entire family.
American Fork Canyon
This can just be a drive through the Alpine loop where Aspens grace the steep slopes. Pull off on the side of the road under the fall foliage to have some ‘hobo dinners’ complete with meat, carrots, potatoes and your favorite seasonings over a fire. Finish off with a hike and sm’ores over the embers.
This is also a great drive through, a lot more of an open space where you can see fields of oranges, fiery reds. Hike up to the wind caves, visit the nature center, hike along the limber pine trail with an overlook of Bear Lake – one of the clearest lakes in Utah. Rent a cabin and make a weekend of it on your fall color road trip!
Park City and Sundance Utah
Take an easy walk up to the ski lifts, where you can enjoy a 30 minute ski lift ride right over the fields of wild flowers in the summer, or fall colors. The crisp mountain air, places to shop and dine along with the last remnants of the summer farmers markets will make for a perfect Fall getaway before the winds of winter arrive.
Colombia River Gorge, Oregon
This Gorge is about 2,100 feet deep with waterfalls, and fall foliage galore! Hike the challenging Hamilton Mountain, about 9.4 miles in passing 2 waterfalls ( Rodney and Hardy Falls ) along the way.
Participate in part of the PCT along the 5 mile out and back Dry creek falls. Despite being called a ‘creek’ this 75-foot waterfall will impress even the most negative hikers.
Lastly, end your day with a picnic at Pioneer Point on the 1.3 mile Cape Horn Loop. Where you will bask in the beauty of the Colombia River adorned with a spectacular spectacle of fall colors. Bring your thermos full of hot cocoa, you will want to stay here and drink in the view for awhile.
Maine is known as the ‘vacation state’ to many East Coasters. Vast landscapes packed with adventures for all. Yet, Kennebunkport Main stole my heart when searching for the perfect fall getaway. I would suggest visiting in September specifically as many of the local shops begin to close around the first week of October.
This quaint fishing village was known for its shipping, and packs a punch when it comes to historical value – including being the home town of one of one of the former President’s of the United States.
Be sure to wander the city on foot, take a whale watching boat ride, jump on a lobster boat and catch your meal for the day, and finish up with some blue berry ice cream, or a cuppa tea.
Ozark National Forest, Arkansas
I mistakenly thought that Arkansas didn’t have much to offer in the way of beauty. Yet it is like finding Where’s Waldo when going hiking. The trees cover all the hidden gems like hidden waterfalls, caves used by slaves to hide while getting to freedom, a Popeye Statue in the middle of a small town city and all sorts of down to earth people to talk to. The best part is that this great state is filled with trees that turn into beautiful fall colors – not to miss when fulfilling your fall colors bucketlist.
The iconic Whitaker Point hike with trees in reds, yellows, and oranges as far as the eye can see. A perfect time to hike in the Southern United States, because the humidity will be a lot less potent than in the throws of summer in this area.
There are plenty of hikes to enjoy here like Compton’s Double Falls, Sam’s Throne, and the Narrows with a fabulous display of nature’s beauty.
Catskill Mountains, New York
One word will convince you to visit the Castskill Mountains in Fall….Octoberfest. Beginning the end of September there are 4 weeks of Bavarian festivities held at Hunter Mountain. What is unique to this area is that it grows crisp, juicy, flavorful apples for a perfect hard apple cider. If festivals aren’t your thing, then stop by Delhi’s picturesque Wayside Cider for a more refined sip of these suds.
You can also drive the scenic route of the Catskill Mountains, hitting a round of golf, or spending the night camping in the cool autumn air. If you take a look at all the festivals held in the Catskill Mountains, you are sure to find something for everyone. My favorite is their lumberjack festival, I never realized just how intense the competition was until I saw one of these.
Enchanted Circle of New Mexico
Many people think of the East Coast as the only place with beautiful fall colors. Suprisingly New Mexico’s Enchanted Circle will give you a whole new perspective on Fall in the desert.
This is a circle you will need your RV for, or at the very least a tent as it is 84 miles of exploration. The circular route takes you around Wheeler Mountain ( 13,161 feet – 4.011 meters), and through the lush Hondo Valley blazing with colors of fall.
Stop at the Red River Fish Hatchery and take a self-guided tour. Enchant your children with the large rainbow trout pond. Maybe even travel down stream and try to catch a fish or two.
Carry on around to Questa, to visit Artesanos de Questa, where woodworkers, tinsmiths, painters, stained glass workers and sculptors show their work at this cooperative.
You will get an array of fall festivities, art shows, animal encounters and gorgeous scenery as you take a very memorable and enchanting drive around this circle.
Stowe Vermont Road Trip For Fall Colors
Known as the Fall Color Capital, is a time of vibrant colors that your eyes drink in calming the soul. There are many ways to see the breathtaking fall foliage here through the extensive network of hiking trails, kayaking down the reservoir, or just taking a leisurely scenic drive.
Despite the plethora of mountain biking paths, I recommend the leisurely ‘Rec Path’ for your fall foliage leaf peeping. This path is one the whole family or group of friends can enjoy no matter what their physical skill level is. For the more adventurous, I would take a zip line through the fall foliage, a guided tour, or a Stowe, at Night, Lantern Tour where you are regaled with tales of ghost stories.
Festivals such as the Stowe Tango Music Festival, Stowe Jazz Festival, Stowe Foliage Arts Festival, Stowe Arts Week, Art on Park and the outdoor art exhibit, ‘Exposed’ are just a few events that grace the artistic stages in this small town.
North Conway, New Hampshire
This is one of the more unique and off the beaten path places to visit for fall foliage. North Conway in New Hampshire may not be the first destination you would choose, but for train lovers it should be. There is a historic Victorian Station built in 1974 and on the National Register of Historic Places in the United States.
When you jump on the this train there are different lengths of time you can enjoy the fall foliage in comfort and class. If you like the spooky and scary, like me – try the Murder Mystery Dinner Train in October. Be sure to plan ahead as it only runs on certain weekends in october, and only in certain cars on the train so space is limited.
You cannot mention fall to me without immediately thinking about Halloween. There is no other town more fit to celebrate all Hallo’s Eve than Salem. Discover what it was like to live in New England during the time of the Salem witch trials. Take a ghost tour, explore the museums, meet real practicing witches, attend a play about witches – there are so many ghoulishly great activities you may forget you traveled there to see fall foliage as well.
The color palette along the New England Coastline is one you will never forget. An array of colors even the witches of Salem would have in their cauldrons. No matter where you go in this town, you will be surrounded by brilliant fall colors. Take a ferry down to Boston from Salem (30 min and $25 for one way) to avoid the incredible parking fees. Stroll along Beacon Hill, or Boston Commons two iconic places both photographically and historically. This where the warmth of the color of the trees matches the picturesque buildings of the 1700’s full of history and divine food – it is a perfect way to end your fall foliage frolicking.
Yellowstone National Park Road Trip for Fall Colors
Many people visit Yellowstone National Park in the Summer to see the buffalo, bears, and new babies emerging to find food after the long winter. Yet they often forget just how incredible the colors in the fall can be. It can get a bit chilly in the fall, and even snow if there is an early winter.
Seeing Old Faithful when the crowds are not as oppressive amid the backdrop of beautiful fall colors – should be on everyone’s bucketlist. This is one place that fall hits a bit earlier than the rest of the country, being early August/late August. Be sure that you check on hotels/camping sites you plan to stay at as there are many staggered closings up until Oct 20th.
The reason this is such a wonderful time to see the rutting season. The bison rutting season starts in August, and the Elk rutting season is in September. The park rangers admit, that it is not unusual to see the massive elk sparring and fighting throughout the season. I recommend visiting Mammoth Hot Springs for the best Elk Rutting shows, as this tends to be a place the congregate.
If watching the rutting season isn’t your thing, then maybe catching a fish is! Fishermen from around the world are drawn here for the Brown Trout spawning season. You are guaranteed to have a fish dinner every night that your heart desires. I would recommend Madison and Gardner rivers for the best trout fishing for the fall season.
Jackson Hole National Park
The swarms of summer visitors are gone, and a cornucopia of fall festivities is now in full swing. I would plan a visit in September for the best chance to see the full variety of fall foliage, as the parks will still be open and so will many of the best hikes. Take a ride through Grand Teton National Park full of aspens suffused with brilliant yellows of fall. Go on a wildlife viewing tour (which happen all year round) where the dark colors of elk, deer, and even bears pop out in your photos against the backdrop of fall colors.
Bundle up and catch one of the tram rides up Rendezvous Mountain at the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort in Teton Village. Grab a cup of hot chocolate, and drink in the fresh crisp fall air. Make your way back down to Jackson Hole and reserve a uniquely western experience for dinner, with a Chuck Wagon Supper.
Fall in Jackson Hole is any photographer enthusiasts dream, with wild colors amid wildlife at their peak for mating season – there is no other time I would rather go.
Colorado is often known for the skiing in the fall, but it is one of my favorite places to see Fall Foliage. The people are very down to earth, you can take a horse back ride through Aspen Falls and Estes Park to see the best of the fall foliage without even breaking a sweat. Home to Rocky Mountain National Park and Roosevelt National Forest, with a massive network of mountain biking, and heart warming food – it truly is a fall foliage paradise.
Estes Park is a more luxurious and relaxing way to spend your time seeing fall foliage in Colorado. It is a Swiss inspired town, with songs, shows, and plenty of activities when the sun sets. It is also home to thousands of Elk that will be in the rutting season just like Yellowstone, and Jackson Hole – yet with more of the luxury comfort.
Washington State Road Trip for Fall Colors
I cannot say it enough, I love Washington! The first (of many times) I visited was when I went on my first sailing trip in Seattle. I was hooked and am already planning a trip back to experience fall foliage in Leavenworth. This small town has its own Autumn Leaf Festival. Where a parade full of fall colors and even Lady Fall Royalty is crowned in this small town.
Take a scenic road trip for fall colors through Mt Rainer National Park and see just how incredible the colors light up the land. While it is a very touristic area in the summer, many children are back in school. So it is a great camping getaway for both single and couples alike. Nothing is better than cuddling up in a blanket or next to your loved one than during fall.
The best places to take your epic fall foliage road trip in Washington are Paradise, Reflection Lakes, Bench and Snow Lakes for fabulous fall reflections. Get spiritual at the Grove of the Patriarchs, where you can worship giant Redwood trees. Drive along Chinook Pass on State Route 410 or the White Pass Scenic Byway on U.S. Highway 12 for vast landscape views unlike anything you have ever experienced.
Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia
This is where you will find the iconic old, dark colored mills against the flaming red colors of aspens. Because of the iconic nature along this drive, I highly recommend making reservations months in advance (especially for October). The best time to see the fall colors here is in mid to late October when the colors are at their peak.
When driving this parkway, you will be surrounded by foliage on east and west facing slopes. A perfect drive for the morning, or during golden hour especially along James River. As you travel south you will gain about 6,000 feet of elevation (1828 meteres) up to Mt. Pisgah into North Carolina.
This is one destination that you will need to plan on a journey to see the fall foliage at its best. Due to the varying elevations along this parkway, the peak fall foliage is going to be dependent upon the elevation.
Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, West Virginia
Located along the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers, this is a fabulous place for fall photography. It is four parks from four different States in one, with massive historical ties to the Civil War. Due to this, the parking can be limited with narrow stalls. So I wouldn’t suggest bringing your RV on this one, unless you have a boat load of patience. Alternatively, I would bring/rent a small car and use the shuttle while here.
Be sure to jump off at the footbridge to the C&O Canal stop, as this is where the rivers meet, and give a view like none other. The two rivers collide here, with an island like center, full of fall foliage and color to satisfy any leaf peeper. I highly recommend going to Maryland Heights viewpoint as this is going to be the most iconic and stunning view of the park during fall.
Even though I don’t have children of my own, I really appreciate it when parks provide things like passport stamps to kids, and junior ranger badges, historical tours that the whole family can enjoy. I think it is important to teach the younger generations the beauty that can come from traveling, and especially from traveling responsibly. Showing them and even our own friends just how beautiful nature can be when we take care of it. Harpers Ferry National Historic Park offers all of these things – which is why I highly recommend this place. You are going to need at least 4-5 days to properly explore the fall foliage, hiking, and historic parts of this town.
Gathering Up the Best Fall Leaves
Fall is my favorite time of year. There is not other time that you are still relaxed before Thanksgiving, or Christmas, and can celebrate creativity during Halloween. The crisp air and crisp apples contrast with the warmth of fires, warm drinks and warm fall colors.
No matter where you live, or where you visit in the United States – I hope you are able to visit one of these places during your search for the best places to see fall foliage. From the East Coast to the West Coast, from North to South, from High to Low- there are plenty of scenic road trips for fall colors in the USA for everyone.
In the wilderness you will have limited resources, and limited capabilities for major medical intervention. So it is important to have a basic understanding of wilderness medicine and first aid, as it could save a life. So with my medical background in trauma surgery, and the emergency room – here is an introduction to Wilderness Medicine.
Disclaimer: Please keep in mind this is a guide and you should receive additional training in order to feel confidant and comfortable in each scenario.
The best thing to do is approach the patient using the Acronym: ABCDE, which stands for Airway, Breathing, Circulation, Disability, Exposure. The initial question before all else, is “Am I putting myself at risk by trying to save this person?”. Make sure there won’t be two injured people on the ground before you commit to completing the ABCDE steps. Please make sure that the scene is safe for you approach – don’t approach a bleeding person with a Grizzly Bear standing over them.
Make sure to wear gloves, put on your sunglasses because you may not know them- and don’t know your friends as well as you do.
For those with minimal medical knowledge, here are some questions you should ask after taking a big breath, and introducing yourself in a calm way to the injured person or suspected injured person.
Airway in Wilderness Medicine
Remove dirt or objects that you can see. Do not do blind sweeps with your fingers as this can lodge things further down the throat. They can have dirt, teeth, severed tounge etc… it might be bloody so be prepared (thus the gloves and sunglasses).
Jaw thrust – go to the head of the patient, grab their jaw (right at the angled portion) and lift it slightly forward. Do not move the neck, or tilt the head back significantly when you are doing this because they may have a major neck injury.
In the Emergency Room they often use an nasopharyngeal tube to keep an airway open in an emergency. You can use a camel back to cut this down measuring from ear to mouth.
If you don’t have a nasopharyngeal tube, then you can take your knife – cut the tube on a camel back and insert that into the nose down to the airway. Be sure to measure it properly. Using the ear to jaw measurement method.
If the camel back doesn’t work, you can also use TWO safety pins pinned on either side of the tongue with a shoelace threaded through them tied to the belt loop, their finger etc… I like to have four safety pins so that the paracord/string/shoelace remains in place.
If this wakes the patient up, then you have solved the issue of their airway, because an awake patient, can control their tongue muscles. Also, keep in mind it will feel weird grabbing a limp tounge, it might be weird and gross but it is better than that person being dead because you couldn’t leave their airway while trying to treat the bleeding broken leg that may also kill them.
Chin lift – you only want to do this if you are absolutely SURE that the patient has had NO head trauma.
Have they choked on something? Is there something blocking the airway?
Cricothyrotomy (The Emergency Airway): You can slit the skin right below the Adams apple and stick the knife in. You will pop (it will literally be a pop) through a couple of layers and will hear a rush of air. If you don’t feel a rush of air, then you aren’t in the right space. Don’t dig around, in a normal weight and build individual, it should only be about a 1/2 inch below the layer of skin/fat. In larger individuals you may have to go a little deeper. You can measure a stick a straw, a camel back tube or ball point pens to the side of the neck and it will give you a good idea of how deep the tube needs to go in order to get into the airway.
I like to keep a 14G IV Catheter with me so that I can use that to puncture into the airway. It will be large enough to help air escape, and guide you for making a larger incision in the event that you need to ventilate.
Keep in mind that once you put an incision in this position, medical personell will not be able to insert a viable airway tube through the mouth. So only resort to this option if the upper airway is completely blocked and the patient is deteriorating.
Do you lay them on their back or on their side? Are you sure they are breathing? What do the breaths sound like and feel like? Breathing is really important obviously, it is generally associated with death if someone isn’t breathing and/or isn’t breathing well. There are entire campaigns in the States to help the public become more aware about how to save a life through CPR and First Aid classes. I highly recommend going if you have the chance.
So when assessing breathing, I would review the list below before each activity or vacation. Have someone be in charge and a backup person to support them. Having someone assigned to each task, and someone assigned to be the team leader in the event of an accident will help prevent confusion.
Look for the breathing, is their chest moving?
Is the chest moving equally? Is one rising above the other?
Are they using nose, neck or other muscles to help them breathe?
Listen for their breath by putting your ear right next to their chest.
Feel the breaths by placing your hands lightly on the chest. Does it feel like broken bones grinding together or does it feel like rice krispies under their skin?
The feeling of Rice Krispies on the chest can indicate a tension pneumothorax. This is something that cannot wait and the patient will be dead by the time someone arrives.
Keeping a 14G IV catheter for this situation. You go very high on the chest, right below the collar bone, pick a rib high up, and stick the needle on the TOP part of the rib. (Hold onto it because the trapped air will push the needle out- if there is no rush of air, try the other side. If the rush of air is not on the other side, then take it out).
Most of the time, people don’t put the needle deep enough.
Open Pneumothorax – this is when someone has something penetrating through their skin into their lung. This destroys the physics of the lung and how we breathe. So if there is a hole in the chest, with abnormal breathing – take a plastic baggie, take your duct tape and tape ONLY THREE Sides flat onto the chest (so that air can get OUT of one side).
Do not EVER remove an impaled object into the chest area, or into the leg area.
Basic Life Support would suggest giving breath’s (use a glove as a barrier for rescue breathing- tear off the middle finger and put your mouth in the opening to give breaths) to the patient and doing chest compressions. Contact your local hospital to get education on how to do this. In the USA the Red Cross does BLS courses in the community.
Circulation in Wilderness Medicine
First things first, if they aren’t already laying down – ask them to lie down. If you know how to take a pulse (near the thumb, or on the neck on either side of the neck right near their windpipe) see what their heart rate is. A normal adult should have a heart beat from 70-80 beats per minute.
Check their skin color, are they pale, cool, moist? If you answered yes, they may have an issue with their circulation or are in shock.
If you press down on their fingernails does the blood come back into the fingernail within <2 seconds? If it doesn’t, they may be losing a lot of blood, or being going into severe shock. This method is called checking capillary refill time.
If it looks like they have a lot of the symptoms described above, or you can’t feel the pulse on the wrist – you may not be able to see the bleeding that the patient is experiencing. Some of this bleeding can be internal, so raising the legs (only raise the legs that are uninjured) it can be a way to increase the blood pressure and keep blood pressure up to the brain.
If there are any areas on the surface of the body make sure to hold direct pressure for 10-15 minutes. Don’t let the pressure go and check to see if it is still bleeding until that 10-15 minutes is up. If you have quick clot, pour that on and hold pressure.
For Wounds/lacerations you can use crazy glue, duct tape, staples (even the small stationary staples), or the hair closure technique.
Hair Closure technique: If the hair is more than 1-2 inches long, you can take small pieces on either side of the wound, and twist them around each other tightly. Lay them down flat against the scalp, and put crazy glue on the knot on the top of the head.
If there is a lot of debri in the wound, you can use the sterile saline rinse kits they have over the counter that people use for sinus irrigation, or they also come in small disposable packs. You can also use water (with chlorine tablets dropped in) inside a bag with small holes poked in it to irrigate it out. You can use garbage bags, condoms, sandwich bags etc.. to bring enough water to clean out the wound.
In the Operating Room we had a saying, “The Solution to Pollution is Dilution” – and oh how true that is.
Just keep in mind, you don’t want to close a wound unless it is life threatening. Just clean the wound as well as you can, and then put pressure on it. If you close it completely then they have to keep the wound open for irrigation and it closes on its own leaving a massive scar. If it is a life threatening opening that won’t stop bleeding even with pressure, then there isn’t a choice but to close the wound.
If the bleeding is coming from the legs or arms, putting a tourniquet on the limb using a stick slid just underneath the knot (turning it slowly until the bleeding stops). Make some kind of mark on the patient to make sure that someone knows a tourniquet has been placed.
If a tourniquet is left on for more than 6 hours they are at risk of losing their limb. You are ok to release the tourniquet after 6 hours, as long as the bleeding from the limb is not life threatening. Leave it off for at least 20 minutes to 1 hour (as bleeding allows) then replace it.
If you don’t have quick clot, you can use duct tape, crazy glue (but not for lots of bleeding as it won’t stick), hair ties, staples. If someone has an epi pen for allergies- you can use that injected into the body. There are certain places they say NOT to use any kind of Epi (Fingers, Toes, Penis, Nose) – but again, if it is life threatening….then just do it).
Many medical personell don’t know how to use Epi pens if you ask them, they will likely go into their office or look up how on their phones. So it is really simple…take off the caps and THE ORANGE PART GOES INTO THE PATIENT. Don’t stick it in quickly and pull it out once you push the button on the top, as it takes 10 FULL seconds to get the epi (the medicine) into the patient.
Are they talking normally, confused (name, date, location, what they were doing), responding with a loud voice, do they respond to pain (pinch them on the wrists and behind the ear)? Are their pupils equal? Do the pupils respond to light (use your phone light)? Are they able to move both arms and both legs?
The reason you want to do this as the initial portion for ‘D’ is to see what type of transportation you need for this person. If their pupils aren’t reacting like they should, if they do not respond to pain stimuli, or they are confused – then there is likely something going on with their brain and they need immediate attention via a helicopter transport that would get them the medical attention necessary to save as much of their brain as possible.
Always assume they have a neck injury if they have had a head injury, major injuries or broken bones, they are intoxicated, or were hit by a moving vehicle or boat. Do not believe them when they say their neck is fine, there are plenty of times in the moment of the Adrenalin rush that they won’t feel the trauma that is there.
In this case you want to imagine the patient as a log. everything should remain in line, and no turning, pulling pushing on the spine or neck.
Improvising to protect their neck – you want to prevent them from flexing their neck and turning it side to side:
Preventing Forward Neck Flexion
Aluminum Splints area a great way to splint not just a fracture, but you can thread these behind the neck, and then cut it down so it encircles it once.
A really bulky sweater wrapped around the neck and duct taped on also works
Prevent them from looking side to side with Side Rolls
Improvise with: Water bottles duct taped to the side of the neck to keep it in place. paddles on both sides crossed over the chest, taping sticks together and wrapping a shirt around the ends to prevent punctures, putting their shoes on either side of their neck, stuff sacks or a back pack (filled with sand, clothes) put on both sides and duct tape it together.
What are the weather conditions like? Do you, or can you move them to a better location without causing pain or further damage?
For cold environments you want to try and keep them warm. Use something to block the wind.
You can also use a garbage bag wrapped around and underneath them (as a improvised shirt or pants) with DRY leaves or other clothing stuffed inside of it to keep the heat in.
Make sure whatever you stuff into the bag is DRY, no exceptions.
Using a sleeping bag is also a great idea (only if not wet).
The ground is very cold, even the dirt – so don’t forget to wrap their entire body.
It can be 85 degrees outside, and someone in shock will still be shivering relentlessly.
Were they impaled with any objects?
If there is an object that impaled the patient and is stuck in them — DO NOT REMOVE THIS AS IT CAN CAUSE FURTHER DAMAGE!
A good example of this, is when Steve Irwin was stung by stingray rebarbs, he quickly removed them and one was in his heart. When he removed it, it created an outlet for bleeding to happen around and from his heart causing his death.
You can wrap something around the impaled object to stabilize it until the patient can get to the operating room to have it taken out. Even doctors in the Emergency Room don’t typically mess with these things until you know for CERTAIN that an object has not severed an artery.
Invest in a Good First Aid Kit (not just ones with bandaids)
There are thousands of First Aid Kits out there, but how do you know which one if the best? Think of your situation, how much you are willing to put in the suitcase?
This First Aid Kit has so many good things in it! I’m sincerely impressed with everything in here. It is so compact too, it is smaller than my makeup bag (and I don’t wear a lot) yet has everything I would want in an emergency other than an AED and a back board. They have built the outside of the bag so you won’t lose any space on your backpack with loops to hang carabiners off of.
On the back there are two button straps you could also use to hang onto your bag. You can unclip the strap that goes around the bag and use that as a neck brace with the rolled clothing or water bottles and cinch it down.
Inside it is very well organized with straps holding everything in place, just like you would find in a paramedic bag. There is benedryl, tylenol, advil, sunscreen, electrolytes, 2 pairs of gloves. Sterile bandage, triangle bandage, emergency blanket, suture kit, scissors, tweezers, sterile saline, ace wrap, tourniquet (the fancy kind), paracord, QuikClot, snap light, whistle, medical tape, bandaids, Nasopharyngeal tube, hydrogel (used for severe burns – to help slow damage to lower levels), CPR shield (so you don’t have to use a glove).
This is just to name a few of the things tightly compacted into this bag. The bag also is easy to close once you are done exploring it.
Another thing I do when I go camping, hiking, climbing, or any other adventuring – I always make sure everyone knows where the first aid kit is. You put it in the same spot every time you go out adventuring. If it is on your backpack, or in your backpack, you make sure that people know how to access it. If it is in your car, make sure they know where the keys are to open the car.
If I were to add a few more things to this MyMedic Pack, I would add an Epi Pen, 14G IV Catheter, strap my swiss army knife to the outside. I would also put 4 safety pins, chlorine tablets, and crazy glue.
Just like Duct Tape, Safety Pins have so many uses, so I would highly recommend always keeping a few handy:
Tongue Extension, making eyeglasses, removing foreign bodies from skin, cornea, abscess drainage, removing a fishhook, T-shirt arm splint, sewing needle, wound closure, unclogging camping stove jet, tick removal, fix zippers/bindings, and last but not least for all my ladies out there – they work great for separating eyelashes after putting mascara on 😉
When Do You Evacuate Someone?
If the patient is having any of the following, you will likely need to ask for a helicopter or rescue team evacuation:
Neck or Torso Pain
Unable to Walk
Visible Bone or Clear Dislocation
Unsure of Severity of Injury
Animal Bites and Stings in Wilderness Medicine
Know the area, animals that frequently attack – an easy way to know this is to ask a local. If you ask the concierge, the taxi driver, the ticket counter, or even your guide should know.
When I was hiking in Jamaica through the Jungle, we emerged and I felt a pinch on the skin of my foot. In the States, ticks are known to hold Lyme Disease- but my guide was able to dislodge the tick, and said that Jamaica didn’t have Lyme Disease like the States did. She was from New York, and one of the toughest ladies I have ever met. So even common pests like this, may not be dangerous in the places that you visit – they may be…just pests.
This is why it is important to just ask questions about dangers when hiking in certain areas, or animals. The animal world is always changing, and animals can be quite territorial, or hide in places you may not think of.
For example, where I live, we have to keep our dogs out of the weeds in certain places we go hiking as Rattlesnakes are quite common here. You likely wouldn’t find Rattlesnakes while hiking in Zermatt Switzerland. So get educated and be prepared.
Snake Bites: Move away from the snake, take off any tight clothing, do not use a tourniquet. Take a photo of the snake if possible. Call 911 to minimize having to move and increase the circulation of the poison.
Hypothermia in Wilderness Medicine
The first time I personally experienced Hypothermia was when I went camping and hiking on Mount Whitney in November. You don’t really know that you are getting cold until things start to turn blue (especially if you are exercising). Make sure to read about my whole experience there.
If you encounter someone who has Hypothermia, or if you yourself start to experience it – there are some things you can take with you. Hand warmers (the 12 hour ones are best) I would bring at least 6 for each person, or more if you are car camping. An emergency blanket, if I am backpacking or camping I will typically bring a compact Mylar blanket, and then a cloth emergency blanket over that that you can find at REI and are easy to put on your backpack.
Hyperthermia in Wilderness Medicine
The first time I experienced Heat exhaustion was hiking in Zion National Park in the sun when it was 112 F (44C). Ever since that time I have been easily prone to heat exhaustion (another reason I sweat like a whore in church in any kind of humidity).
It starts with a dry mouth, then you get hot and start sweating so much you can hardly keep it off your body. Then it feels like your heart is going to beat out of your chest. It feels like it takes monumental effort to take even a few steps or keep your eyes open. Then your stomach starts to cramp, and you can get nauseated. When I got to the nausea and dizzy stage, that is when I knew I had heat exhaustion for sure. Be sure to read that first hand account, and keep yourself safe in warmer climates.
Getting Travel Insurance
Sometimes the first aid kit isn’t enough, it can save a life in order to get to medical care though. When you are traveling abroad, you won’t know what hospital is a good one, or what the cost will be. This is why I highly encourage Travel Insurance.
Not only do they help with repatriation (arrange for your body to be transported back home), they also can help with delayed or canceled flights, long term hospitalizations abroad etc..
I recommend World Nomad Insurance, because it is highly customizable. Even for coverage for my diving trip in Cabo San Lucas, for my age it was only around $69 for repatriation coverage, hospitalization, cancelled flights, delayed flights and more. For everything that they cover, I was stunned….especially since I work in the medical field and know how much headache it is to cover sports like these.
Stay Aware, and Stay Safe
There is only so much that you can prepare for on a trip. There will always be the unexpected in this life, so just prepare as much as you can – get familiar with some of these Wilderness Medicine Hacks. Some people never get hurt while they are traveling, some people are so accident prone they can regail you with stories for hours. You personally may not feel you need any of this information, but you may just possibly save someone else’s life should you prepare yourself with the right information and your own first aid kit. Be safe, don’t be sorry you didn’t prepare. The worst thing in the world to live with is the ‘What If I Would Have?’
Have you ever heard someone say, “I need a vacation from my vacation”. I hear this more and more from people who ask me how I have so much energy after traveling so much. There really isn’t a secret to it, I just know how to pace myself while traveling, listen to what my body needs, and follow a certain set of rules for when I get back no matter how tired I feel – or how heavy the post-vacation blues feels.
Leave the House Clean
There is nothing worse than coming home to a pile of laundry that you know you are just going to make worse by all your travel clothes. While it seems stressful to try and add another thing to your ‘to-do’ list before you leave – at the bare minimum do your laundry before you leave. For those of us who love watching Marie Kondo, or Mrs Hinch; I suggest making the bed, chopping those pillows, doing the dishes, and vaccuming and mopping the floors.
You will find just how refreshing it is to come home to a clean house. Trying to readjust to normal life after a vacation is almost like trying to screw your head back on straight. It is easier for me to do get my life in order and back into a routine inside a clean house.
Arrange For A Ride Before Leaving
If you don’t need a car to take you, at least make sure you know if you will need to take a Taxi, train, or bus on the way home. Think about the luggage you will have, the time of night, if the transportation methods run that late; or if you should just take that Uber home and save yourself some headache.
There are always ways to get home, just be sure to keep in mind what time you arrive back home so you don’t have to stress about it when your jet lagged and shuffling your way out to your chosen transport method in a post vacation hangover.
Good Night’s Rest
The blessed bed! There is no bed, in the whole world, that is as comfortable as my own bed, my own incredibly soft Crown Goose Bedding, my 1000 count sheets, and Zoey snuggling up next to me. This is bliss to me!
Do not under-estimate investing in your bed, it is the thing that will help you the most with the inevitable Jet-Lag. It will help you recover your scrambled brain to help you function at work, so you can save for your next trip.
I am a very light sleeper, so I have made every effort to make sure that every part, portion and piece of my bed feels like heaven. I got my tufted headboard off of Amazon, and my favorite color being blue – for it’s soft and relaxing shade contributes to a relaxed environment.
The bedding, from Crown Goose, with some of the softest material I have felt in a long time. This bedding holds up in the wash really well, so no worries when you have your puppy snuggles. I also really like how elegant it looks, almost as if I have my own hotel room at home. The fabric holds up really well when I go and chop my pillows like Mrs Hinch in the morning, with crisp clean lines, and a white that reflects the sunlight from my window. They have several colors, all which are in the comforting and relaxing shades – so be sure to check them out – I promise you won’t regret it.
The 500 thread count sheets are a must for me. I know it sounds like a bit of a Princess and the Pea at this point, but I rub my feet on the sheets to help me sleep. I also toss and turn so much I needed some sheets that would hold up. I like that they come in all shades, and really can make or break my whole bed.
The last things I would add to this section is make sure you have a darkened room at appropriate times of the day. I personally use black-out curtains, and have to have the bedroom a little cooler. Fun fact, studies show that humans sleep better when the temperature is cooler at night because our body temperature drops slightly.
I must try and ride the wave coming off the plane on auto mode, and promptly unpack. I typically will unpack immediately and at least throw all the clothes either in the wash or the hamper. That way at least it is in its proper place ready for the madness of dealing with the laundry on your day off.
I also tend to pick out an outfit for work the next day. I typically go with some dark colors, to help my inevitable dark circles look a little brighter. I will either wear a flowy dress or skirt as well, so I don’t have to suck in the gut I tend to get from eating so much while on vacation.
Exercise vs Resting
Each body is different, and so I would say – listen to what your body needs. I typical traveler can walk anywhere from six to ten miles per day. When you add that up over the course of your trip, you pretty much walk two marathons over a week long trip!
For those coming from a desk job, to suddenly walking more than you do in a month combined – give your body the rest it needs. Give yourself plenty of water, and when your ready, keep walking at least three miles a day to keep up the stamina for your next trip. Even 20 minutes per day at least four days a week is great.
For those who run five or six miles a day, well… you just pat yourself on the back and get straight back to that gym! No pain, no gain – work off those carbs you indulged in while on vacation.
Nutrition vs easy Fast Food
I know how easy it is to drive home jet lagged and just stop by the nearest fast-food joint to do ‘one less thing’. RESIST THE URGE TO DO IT! This is part of the reason I try to meal prep something the week before I leave. Then freeze part of it so I have something healthy and nutritious to come home to.
If nothing else, grab your InstaPot throw in BBQ and some Frozen chicken and you can have a hot meal in 20 minutes. Get creative! There are plenty of recipes on Pinterest that are still good after being frozen.
Now this is the step that is an absolute must! It is hard for me to remember to take care of myself after going on a trip, feeling jet lagged, and needing my precious self care time. A time where I can soak the sore muscles from the flight in the tub, take a hot shower with a bath bomb thrown onto the floor for an infusion of wonderful smells. I also need cuddle time with my dog and to let the silence reset me while I rock in my recliner.
I feel like a part of me gets extremely fatigued by all the camera work, video work, and general mass amounts of ‘new input’ it receives while on vacation. Don’t get me wrong, I really love to travel the way I do, but after doing it every other week for two months – this step became increasingly important to me and the health of my friendships at home.
Take an Extra Day Off Work
The older I get the more I’m allowing myself to be ok with at least an extra day off of work. My paid time off of work is EXTREMELY precious to me, but I try and schedule my flights to give me at least one full day (or nearly full day) at home on my regularly scheduled day off, or I come home early on a Saturday instead of midnight on a Sunday. The extra cost is worth it to me, to come home earlier in the day.
Arrange for Grocery Pickup/Delivery
With Walmart, Amazon, Costco, Smiths and many other large grocery chains now offering ordering your groceries online – take advantage of this! For one thing, it helps you stay on budget which will help you save for your next trip. The second part, is that you can jump in the car, drive 5-10 minutes and just pick up the few things you will need to complete the work week and still get the rest you need.
I started doing this on my last trip, and was amazed at just how incredibly put together I felt the next morning – knowing all I had to do was go to work and come home to rest.
Purge All Your Thoughts
Writing down all the impact memories that either agitated you, or inspired you along your trip will do two things. One- It will help you release some of the emotions you may have collected along the way, and also ease the worry of not remembering your incredible journey. Two- Allows your mind to take a rest of trying to input so much information, learning, and experiences.
I also keep a small journal with me, or notepad where I take notes of buildings I visit, places to remember – costs of tickets etc…. See the things I do for my Culture Trekkers? 😉
Print Out The Photos
We live in a Digital world, and sometimes having the photos on the wall when you get that post-vacation blues can be a way to remind you of the amazing journeys you have been on.
You can make an arrangement of photos in frames, use string/cord to clip them to your wall with fairy lights. Take it a step further and make a travel book for your coffee table, or fireplace mantel that you can show friends when they come over. I think that creating something like this, along with inserting feelings/phrases like before would be
If you have ever seen The Labryinth, you know what fantastical worlds can be made up by the human mind – Goblin Valley State Park looks like it should have been part of that movie. The unique sandstone formations within the depressed valley in southern Utah are a perfect playground for young, old, and the whole family.
There are so many hoodoo’s, or mushroom shaped formations, it is hard not to feel like a child again exploring all the twists and turns. The best part is, you can take your pups with you to run a muck and get all the energy out.
Getting to Goblin Valley
There are a couple of options to get there. You can fly into Salt Lake City International Airport, explore Salt Lake City the first few nights, then take a three and half hour ride down to Southern Utah to explore Goblin Valley, Kodachrome Basin, and Moab. If you live in the States you can also fly into Grand Junction Colorado, explore that cute rural town, then Moab, and on to Goblin Valley. No matter which way you care to venture, it is going to be a gorgeous ride with open fields full of purple wild flowers in April, or Sunflowers in the Fall. You really can’t go wrong with a road trip in Utah.
What To Do In Goblin Valley
Explore the Hoodoo’s
There are so many shapes within the Hoodoo/Goblin Valley that it is hard to not have your imagination run wild. It can also be a little spooky, because of how well the rocks block sound, you can turn a corner and run into someone.
The shapes, curves, corners spur different stories in my head when I’m there. My Dad and I used to lay on the trampoline on the weekends together, looking at the different shapes of clouds, assigning an animal or a person and making up different stories to accompany those mental images. Letting those stories of goblins, ghouls and miscreants creep along the lining of your conscious curiosity makes you feel like you are a child again.
Be Careful When You Explore
Respect the Rocks in Goblin Valley
Living in Utah, with five National Parks, and a plethora of State Parks is such an incredible blessing. Growing up here though, visiting Goblin Valley State Park is a bit of a right of passage. The love the locals have for the rocks, parks, and natural space is a bit like caring for a family member in a way. So if you visit Goblin Valley, please do not deface our beautiful area that bring so much joy and families closer together.
The reason I mention this, is due to a fairly destruction of one of the Hoodoo’s that had been there for thousands of years, and was an iconic part of the park. A Scout leader, who has now been charged criminally for destruction of State land, and removed from the National Scouting league; decided to climb atop the teetering rock and video tape it. The rock toppled off it’s precarious perch, and made the national news because of how iconic it was.
Heat of the Day
Another thing I would like to warn you about in this valley is the heat. What many visitors don’t realize is Red Rock of Southern Utah absorbs heat and reflects it. So although Goblin Valley State Park may appear a balmy 90F (32.2C), when you get into the Valley or your on your hike exposed to the sun it can feel like your standing in a dry sauna with temperatures sometimes reaching up to 109F (42.8C).
It is also unique in that you typically need to pack in your own water. There are a few watering stations available at nearby camping areas, but they are a little cumbersome to get to once your in the park itself.
Little Wild Horse Canyon Hike
While not directly in Goblin Valley, this is still part of the San Rafael Swell. With some of the narrowest slot canyons in Utah, it is a great place for scrambling, and perfect introduction route for learning how to do canyoneering.
The hike begins in a parking lot, winds your way through paths toward the canyon; but spits you out into the dry river wash that you follow towards the canyon.
While we didn’t do any canyoneering due to our dogs coming along with us; it was quite comical to see them try to navigate and get past each other at different junctures.
You feel like a real explorer when walking down these canyons, and the walls are so perfectly sculpted with varying shades of red, orange and white rock it almost looks as if a butter knife had carved out the canyon. In the early spring and fall there can be standing water and small pools of water, but they are typically only ankle deep.
There are a couple of ways to do this hike, one where you just hike in to as far as you feel comfortable, and then back out. Option two is to do the full 8 mile loop with some canyoneering down bells canyon.
Please be careful during rainstorms as some of the areas along this hiking route are prone to flash flooding and people have been known to get trapped.
People have compared this lair to that of the Labyrinth as well. Where ghouls, trolls and other creatures of the dark gather at night to wreck havoc on the campers in the area. If they are caught outside the lair, this is when they turn into the knobby rocks and how Goblin Valley was made.
The hike is moderately strenuous, you do have to scramble at some points, and getting down into the lair is quite precarious. The views from the lair are quite beautiful though, with unobstructed views of the desert landscape – serene and quite with only the crows cawing. The afternoon is the best time to go so you aren’t in full sunlight on the way up.
Dark Sky Park Experience At Goblin Valley
Not only is this a great place to explore in the spring and fall, it is also considered one of the remaining dark sky parks in the world. Being from Utah, I forget how fortunate I am to experience things like this. There isn’t a night where you wouldn’t at be able to see a plethora of stars visually dancing above you. Shooting stars to make your wish, and dreams come true are quite common as well.
The sunsets are almost as pretty as when the galaxy rises, with your eyes feasting on a spectrum of colors from dusk until dawn. I suggest planning your trip to when the moon will be either a sliver, or absent as this is when you can truly see the universe in all it’s grandeur.
My favorite thing was to sit on the floor of the Goblin Valley, snuggling with my dogs, taking photos of the sunset with the hoodoos giving a perfect silhouette. Then as the sun was tucked behind the mountains for the night, the start slowly emerged….we stayed there until we all started shivering and then headed back to camp – where there were even more wonderful photo opportunities with nearby crackling fires.
It truly was a perfect way to end the night, feeling small but happy enveloped into a perfect slumber knowing that we just witnessed something not many people in this age of technology truly get to appreciate anymore.
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Where to Stay Near Goblin Valley State Park
There is plenty of BLM Land near Goblin Valley that you can set up a remote camp site. I would definitely recommend four wheel drive, as well as some sturdy tent stakes. The wind in the area can get quite strong, and I’ve had the lovely experience of chasing a tent across the desert landscape in the past.
Diving has become a huge passion of mine, and I am slowly working my way to becoming a Master Diver (keyword slowly). After knowing it is an activity that I will be doing for the rest of my life, I decided to get a little input from fellow divers and travel experts around the world who have contributed to this article on what we all feel are the Top Diving Locations Around the World. Within each section, you will find information on the Dive site, visibility, certifications required, how to get there, where to stay and other helpful tidbits to craft your own Diving Bucketlist.
Don’t forget your travel insurance, I don’t travel without it now. I typically use World Nomads as you can specifically craft the insurance coverage for your extreme sports activities and your budget. If you have a dive site you would love to add, be sure to add it in the comments below.
Mexico: Cabo (Lands End)
Cabo San Lucas conjures up images of partying, sloppy drunk teens escaping from their parents….or at least it did for me in the beginning. When taking my cruise there this last December I couldn’t have been more wrong about what kind of adventures Cabo San Lucas Holds. There are plenty of areas to dive here, and with the mass amount of tourism, the companies cater to you and have really nice equipment.
The dive itself is some of the most unique along the Mexico/South American Coastline. There are underwater sand falls, shipwrecks, seals, eels, Mobula Rays, Hammer Head Sharks and a healthy array of colorful fish and puffer fish. If you decide to dive in December, the whales will be migrating and are truly worth every minute observing their breaching and feeding frenzy.
Visibility here depends on the season, during the summer you can have 30-90 feet of visibility and the winter can drop to 20-40 feet. While water temperatures can range from 64-86 degrees Fahrenheit. Depths near Cabo Arch can be anywhere from 10-90 feet, while diving sites at Lands End are 1000+.
This was my first real ocean dive, as diving in Utah (the middle of the desert) is a little difficult to get that ocean experience in. I would recommend that you have good control of your buoyancy, and take a guided tour so that you can see the best parts without getting hit by tour boats going to Cabo Arch. I recommend using Cabo Adventures as there are plenty of staff on hand to cater to the most advanced divers and the newest divers. We had a mix of open water, and master divers on our boat; so they took us all out and split us up into appropriate groups where each of us had a wonderful time. They also do snorkeling adventures, dolphin encounters and a whole lot more. Plus they are really good looking…sorry not sorry…lol.
To get here take a flight to the Los Cabos International Airport, from there it is a 34-minute drive to Cabo San Lucas. I would suggest taking the bus though it is $5.50 for two people and takes around 1 1/2 hours to get to the Center (Puerto Paraiso Mall) of Cabo. If you opt for a cab or shuttle, you are going to pay a lot more. I think you can get a group shuttle for around $15 pp or take a taxi for $50 -$100 so the bus is a big savings if you are watching your budget.
Contributed by Janiel from Culture Trekking
USA: Florida – Devils Den
While cave diving wasn’t really on my list of ‘best places to dive’, this particular dive was so unique I just had to include it. Devil’s Den is so appropriately named as you descend down into a cavern from the humid Florida air into a prehistoric cave of wonder.
While it appears warm in the video below, the water itself is 72 degrees F/22.2 degrees year round. I didn’t think I needed a full wet suit, as it was still winter in Utah and temps there were around 32 degrees so I just took my shorty wetsuit. While I was a little chilled when entering the waters, by the end of the dive, I really wish I had my full wetsuit (some people were in dry suits). Visibility is excellent, but there is silt on the bottom as the cave is fed by natural springs so try to not disturb the bottom. If you are there on a weekend, or holiday expect to have loads of divers training here.
The cave is an excellent place for practicing night dives, cave diving, and fantastic for beginners. There are areas that are more dangerous than others but the private owners have blocked those areas off, and the caves are easy to maneuver around in. They have also put different items around the caves, so it makes it really creepy and fun to explore. Be aware of the creepy fish and giant catfish lurking in the corners.
You can either stay in Williston, Gainsville or swing over to St Petersburg Florida where there are the perfect west coast white sand beaches, plenty of street art, the Dali museum and yummy places to eat.
Contributed by Janiel from Culture Trekking
Richelieu Rock – Similan Islands
Richelieu Rock is the most popular dive location in the
Similan Islands. The name of the dive site is based on the fact that the dive
site is a rock formation in the middle of the ocean. It is stated that the site
was discovered when during a low tide Jacques-Yves Cousteau and a local
fisherman boat bumped into the top of the rock formation.
The dive site itself is famous due to the traffic that
occurs at Richelieu Rock. The rock is covered in anemone and has over four
variety of anemone fish. There are numerous other reef fish at the location.
The large attraction however is the whale sharks and manta rays that frequently
cruise around the location. A dive tour at the site will typically encompass a
trip around the rock formation, and then if you are lucky, you will see a manta
ray or whale shark cruising by on the outside area.
An added bonus is that the whale sharks are juvenile, so
while smaller than normal, the whale sharks are far more curious and will check
out the divers and the bubbles from respirators thinking that the bubbles may
be plankton. Ultimately making Richelieu Rock a great location to dive with
The dive is easy to complete, with only an open water certification required. The depths can go upward of 30m, but companies typically stay at the top of the rock formation and no further than 15m. Visibility is clear at site, however there can sometimes be strong currents. There are two main ways to get to Richelieu Rock, and the Similan Islands, and that is through liveaboard out of Phuket, or through a dive company that does day trips out to the island. I recommend using Sunrise Divers, they are located in the Karon Beach, Phuket, Thailand area and can help arrange a liveaboard or a day trip out.
While I haven’t personally been diving here, in planning my trip to China in the next year – I found this hidden gem! It is the 1,400 old ruined city submerged underwater for over 50 years! Talk about the Asia version of the Atlantic City. Qiandao Lake, also known as Thousand Island Lake, is a sprawling body of fresh water, covering 573 sq. km. It was flooded to create a reservoir where hydroelectricity could be used but displaced nearly 290,000 people in doing so.
After reading about all the specs on the dive I discovered, I personally need a little more experience before attempting it. The visibility is very poor in the lake and gets quite dark very quickly. Some of the diving accounts I read, said that you need to have excellent bouyancy control, excellent navigation epxerience (because it is that easy to lose your dive partner), night dive certification, and advanced open water certification.
There is a lot of silt in the area as it is in a lake, so that is why buoyancy is so important here. Diving itself is apparently a newer sport for those in China so there are limited companies willing or able to do this dive. The company I found that does do tours of this site is Big Blue Scuba that schedules tours here our of Shanghai. I personally plan on staying in Shanghai and then letting the tour drive the 6 hours of winding rural roads to get to the site so I don’t get lost.
I don’t know how long the ruins will last, but despite the visibility and needing excellent diving skills – just watch the video and you will understand why this one needs to be on your bucket list. For more information on this dive, be sure to visit Underwater Photography Guide.
Contributed by Janiel from Culture Trekking
Hanga Roa, Easter Island
One of the most unique dives anybody can do is located in Hanga Roa Harbor. Hanga Roa is the capital of Easter Island, and this amazing and easy dive is called the Moai Dive. And as the name implies, this is the only place on earth where you can meet an Easter Island stone head statue underwater!
This moai is submerged in roughly 28 feet of water, and it is only a few minutes ride from Hanga Roa harbor to reach the dive site. An open water certification is required to do this dive or to visit any of the Easter Island dive sites.
Easter Island is one of the most remote places on earth, and its far distance to the nearest island and the lack of natural stream on the island contributes to the extremely clear surrounding waters. The coral reefs here are relatively young, and some of the 150 species of relatively small fish and other creatures are endemic to Easter Island.
On a typical day, the visibility can range to over 200 feet, with no obstructions in sight. Even better – during the whale migration season, you can sometimes hear some of the whales singing in the distance!
I highly recommend Mike Rapu Diving Center. It is one of the few trusted PADI establishments on the island.
There are only two ways to get to Easter Island: a four hour-flight from Tahiti or a nearly six-hour flight from Santiago de Chile. Either way, it demonstrates how remote this island is.
Contributed by Halef from the RTW Guys
Negril in Jamaica, an iconic destination for scuba divers who want to explore the wonders of the Caribbean underwater universe. This spot features vivid marine world, thriving coral reefs, a range of unique undersea sights, colorful fish, sharks, sea turtles and much more. You will enjoy in a warm crystal clear water with an average depth of 30 ft and maximal depth of 70 ft.
For your diving experience, Sandals Luxury Resorts offers several dive courses. With a 3-hour PADI diving program, you will be able to dive in the same day as the program. There’s also PADI’s e-learning system (8-hour course) which helps you to complete it at your own pace. Furthermore, the program does not require any prior certification or dive experience. I recommend staying at Sandals Negril offers from two-story suites to the Millionaire Suites, some with private pool, balcony, patio or swim-up pool, etc. Which to choose depends on your preferences and budget.
To get here there is a daily flight from Miami to Montego Bay. Once in Montego Bay take an included transfer to Sandals Negril. It’s a 60 minutes ride.
contributed by Leo from Safari Nomad
Gordon Rocks the Galapagos Island
The Galapagos is world famous for its incredible wildlife and the underwater world is no exception. One of the best tours in the Galapagos is to visit Gordon Rocks, a dive site near the island of Santa Cruz.
Gordon Rocks is one of the best places in the world to find Hammerhead sharks and the Oceanic Sunfish. You can also see Galapagos sharks, white tip reef sharks, giant sea turtles, stingrays, moray eels, Galapagos eels, Barracudas and various colorful reef fish.
The average depth of the dive is between 60-80 feet. Gordon Rocks is considered an intermediate to advanced dive site as the current can be strong at times. In order to dive, you will need to have your open water certification and a minimum of 25 logged dives.
I recommend diving in Santa Cruz with Scuba Iguana. They are one of the oldest diving companies on the island and have an excellent reputation for being safe and environmentally responsible.
Scuba Iguana is located in Santa Cruz’ main town, Puerto Ayora. A good hotel to stay in is Hotel Ikala, located just a few minutes from the dive shop. This new hotel was built with a focus on sustainability and is surrounded by beautiful trees and gardens, giving it a natural and fresh ambiance.
Contributed by Lora from Explore with Lora
Green Island, Lvdao Township, Taiwan
They say Green Island is the best diving spot in all Taiwan due to its incredible visibility of 40 meters or even more. When we got into the water, I knew people were right. The visibility was fantastic, the more than 200 types of corals are colorful and flourishing. You have a wide range of beautiful fishes in all shapes and sizes. I have never seen that many clown fishes on that little space.
Max depth is around 20meters. Visibility is incredible, around 40 meters. You need at least an Open Water. However, the dive centers also offer explorer dives with 5 meters depth and taking photos. Absolutely interesting for beginners, since the corals and fishes are colorful, and you can even see turtles.
The company we went with was “BLUE SAFARI DIVING CENTER 藍莎潛水中心”. I asked specifically for a dive instructor that speaks English, to take away any language barrier. They organized one for me. It was a 1 on 1 dive, so only me and the instructor. The briefing was on the point, we went through all signs again, to make sure we can both understand each other under water. He then asked what i want to do. I could do a drift dive, see specific fishes. I told him I am interested i seeing Turtles. We succeeded and saw two precious, beautiful turtles.
We stayed at “Hostel Green520 綠島民宿‧綠野仙蹤鄉村童話-海島民宿” (< that is the full name apparently). The host is a young guy from the island, and it feels like you are staying wth a friend. He knows everything on the small island. He also picks you up on the harbor, and you exchange your WhatsApp with him. During our stay, he sent as a few messages, for instance when it was raining he’d send us a message to stay safe because it’s slippery. And then if we want to go for a drink tonight. Seriously, it was like staying with a friend!
You can only take a ferry from Taitung harbor. The ferry takes around 1 hour, and it can be bumpy. There are also airplanes, but they are always sold out, taking the ferry is much easier.
The Gili Islands is a great place to go diving. There’s a small shipwreck, some underwater statues, and turtles the size of dinner tables! It’s a trip you can take around all 3 Gili Islands. The water is beautiful and crystal clear so you can see tons all around you. You don’t have to be certified as they have introductory dives that will take you up to 12 meters on your first dive. You can check out Shark Point to see reef sharks, eels and rays, or head to Turtle Heaven where you can swim with several large turtles.
Gili Air Divers on the island of Gili Air is a PADI certified company that we recommend. They are very professional and emphasize safety. You can easily find them after your boat docks, on the strip of vendors.
We always recommend staying on the island of Gili Air, as it is more of a relaxing vibe as opposed to the more party islands. It has a great tropical island vibe with lots of live music and great food on the beach every night. We had a great experience staying at “Villa Karang Hotel and Spa”, with pools, a spa, great air-conditioned rooms, and right across from the beach.
Gili Air is a boat ride away from Bali, Indonesia, and it is very easy to find a boat to take you there. You can check online to purchase your tickets in advance as well.
Monad Shoal is the only dive site in the world where you are likely to spot Thresher Sharks daily. Normally the Thresher Sharks live and hunt at 50+ meters of depth. The sunken island works as a cleaning station as the sharks swim up there early in the morning to get their skin washed by tiny fish called Cleaning Wrasse. That´s when divers can observe them.
The dive goes down to the underwater sandbank of Monad Shoal. From there, you dive down along the wall to about 30 meters of depth. Once you spot the Thresher Sharks you will sit down by the wall and observe them calmly. Visibility is normally 10-15 meters.
As the dive is 30 meters deep you need minimum Advanced Open Water to do the dive, though some companies will take experienced Open Water divers. You need to stay at Malapascua island to do the dive. I did it with Jayky, a great instructor and divemaster at Dive Society. Unlikely most of the dive centers, this is not on the main beach, hence you get a better price and the experience was nevertheless unforgettable.
We traveled budget, so we stayed at a basic, budget bungalow with no name in the inland dirt tracks of the island. We found it by talking to some locals when we arrived.
To get to Malapascua you need to get a bangka (traditional Philippine pirogue) from Maya Port on Cebu island. You can take a bus from Cebu city to Maya. It is also possible to go from Leyte island by private bangka, but that will be much more expensive.
Contributed by Linn from Brainy Backpackers
SMS Cöln – Scapa Flow, Orkney Islands
The SMS Cöln is one of the wrecks within Scapa Flow. She is the most intact cruiser in the Flow and sits on her starboard side at 36 metres. The shallowest point is at 22metres. The stern and armoured control tower are still intact. The visibility averages about 10metres. This is a cold water dive in deeper water so PADI advanced open water with wreck and dry suit experience are needed to make it a pleasant experience.
There are a number of companies who operate out of the nearest town of Stromness. I would recommend Andy Cuthbertson who runs Jean Elaine through Scapa Flow Charters. If you want support or training then Scapa Scuba have courses, training and equipment available and can take you out the wrecks in the flow. This is especially useful if you are a single diver or buddy pair. All the charter boats usually take larger groups and book up months in advance.
All of the companies include accommodation in their packages. They use small self catering cottages or the Stromness Hotel.
Diving in Scapa Flow is from the small town of Stromness. This can be reached from mainland Scotland using Northlink Ferries which run from Thurso near John O’Groats (three hours drive north of Inverness). The ferry takes just under 2 hours. You can also fly to Kirkwall and then drive the 40minutes to Stromness in a hire car.
Out of all the places I’ve dived and snorkeled around the world, there’s honestly nothing that has come to close what I experienced at the Batu Balong dive site in Indonesia! I had just finished an incredible four-day sailing trip from Lombok to Labuan Bajo, and visited the Komodo National Park (which I’d highly recommend doing as well)!
I was traveling with a few friends, and we all decided to book a one-day diving trip with Uber Scuba in Labuan Bajo. We visited a few different dive sites, but this one spot called Batu Balong was easily the best! From the minute you jump in the water, you are quite literally surrounded by thousands of fish in every direction, and the colorful coral is the most vibrant I’ve ever seen! The max depth is around 25 meters, with visibility being good to excellent year round. Honestly a perfect place for any open water certified diver.
We saw turtles and sharks on the dive, and it was just such an amazing experience! Labuan Bajo is on the island of Flores in Indonesia, which you can find cheap fllights to on a few different airlines. I’d recommend staying at the Ayana Komodo Resort too, because it’s easily the best property on the island!!
Malaysia: Perhentian Kecil, part of the Perhentian Islands
One of the places that surprised me the most in Malaysia was Perhentian Kecil, part of the Perhentian Islands. I have visited out of season, when the island was almost deserted, with probably only around 10 tourists in total. There was not much to do except for diving, snorkelling, and enjoying coconut smoothies on the beach.
Diving in the Perhentian Islands is a magical experience because of the amazing underwater eco system that developed around old sunken ships and buoys. There are several spots where you can dive in Perhentian Islands, which you can pick in a day tour from one of the diving centres on the island.
One of the most popular dives is at the “Sugar Wreck”, a 90 meters long cargo ship which sank in 2000. There are over 20 different diving spots around, where you can observe the marine life, such as tuna, sword fish, pufferfish, black tip reef sharks, sting rays and turtles. The corals are so beautiful as well, but remember, don’t touch them.
To reach the Perhentian Islands you need to catch a speed boat from Kuala Besut, the closest town on the mainland. I chose to stay at Maya’s Chalet, in a hut right on the Coral Bay beach.
Contributed by Joanna from The World In My Pocket
Mary’s Place, Roatán, Honduras
Just off the coast of mainland Honduras lie the Bay Islands, Roatán being the largest of the group. These Caribbean islands are set atop a 1,000-kilometer Mesoamerican barrier reef, and most of the dive sites are just a few minutes boats ride from shore.
There are hundreds of spectacular sites to choose from and Mary’s Place is one of the best. Known for its sheer vertical cracks caused by ancient volcanic activity, this site is best suited for experienced divers. With a maximum depth of 36 meters (120 feet), divers must have an advanced certification and a good handle on buoyancy. Like many dive sites in the Bay Islands, Mary’s Place is known for excellent visibility and healthy corals.
Roatán Divers is one of the most reputable dive shops on the island. They’re very professional and well located. Plus, they have a focus on environmental responsibility, which is why we chose to dive with them. I recommend staying at Ibagari Boutique Hotel which has beautifully-designed rooms that you’ll love to relax in after a day of diving,
To get there from the city of La Ceiba, ferries depart for the Bay Islands twice daily – once in the morning and once in the afternoon.
Thailand: Koh Tao
If you enjoy diving, you will love diving in Koh Tao, Thailand. This is probably the number one destination in Thailand for divers. Koh Tao is a paradise island that is home to some of the most awesome dive sights. One of the best dive sites being Sail rock. Here you get the opportunity to dive with large schools of Barracuda, other amazing fish and stunning coral.
This amazing dive actually takes you down through a
rock, crazy. The dive can take you to a maximum of 18-metres deep, from the
bottom you can exit the rock and ascend back to the surface. However, these
depths are for advanced divers. A good depth for beginners is 5-metres.
You will be required to have your PADI certificate if
you want to dive to the deeper depths of Sail
Rock. If you are new to diving, you can enjoy a fun dive to a few metres
How to get to Sail Rock?Your Koh Tao dive school will take you on a 1 and half hour journey via boat to the dive site.
Which dive school to choose?I would highly recommend crystal dive school which are a team of dive experts that ensure you will have an amazing dive if you choose them. Also, if you choose to a PADI certification, you should choose CrystalDive. They are known for delivering high quality and safe courses. This amazing dive company also offers accommodation within their dive school. This is a very popular option for travellers.
The best place to stay when planning to dive here is at the P.D Beach resort, which I would highly recommend.
Agincourt Reef, Great Barrier Reef, Port Douglas, Australia
The Great Barrier Reef is renowned for being one of the best dive locations in the world. At 2,300 km long, comprising thousands of reefs and hundreds of islands, it’s home to countless species of fish and coral, plus sharks, turtles and dolphins.
You can dive the Great Barrier Reef all along Australia’s east coast, but one of the most popular places to go is the small resort town of Port Douglas, just north of Cairns. Port Douglas is pretty much a dedicated beach and dive town, offering easy access to the Agincourt Reef System, part of the Ribbon Reef and one of the most popular and accessible dive areas. Agincourt Reef offers 45 different dive sites, mostly drift and wall diving, with coral gardens and shallow dive sites that are great for novice and intermediate divers. You can even do introductory dives, so everyone from complete beginners to experts is catered for.
As well as a fantastic range of coral fish, you’re likely to spot lionfish, barracudas, dogtooth tuna, reef sharks and blue spotted stingray. Depth at the various Agincourt sites ranges from 12-40 metres, and on a good day visibility can be up to 30 metres; the average is usually about 20 metres.
The dive company I recommed is ABC Scuba Diving or Blue Dive, I truly had a great time with them and felt cared for every step of the way.
There are loads of places to stay in Port Douglas, ranging from backpackers’ hostels to serviced apartments to expensive beach resorts with pools. We stayed in Coral Beach Lodge which was centrally located and quite affordable.
The Silfra fissure sits along the mid-Atlantic ridge, a location where the earth’s plates diverge, here Iceland is being slowly ripped in two but the resulting freshwater dive in the middle of the country is bound to blow your booties off. Silfra is unique in the world, the only place in the world where you can (feasibly) dive between the earth’s tectonic plates! Running from a shallow 1m down to 40+ meters Silfra is a somewhat technical dive that you’ll need your drysuit diver certification for but with 100+m visibility its well worth the trouble.
Staying in Reykjavik is the best option for people wanting to dive the fissure, we loved the FossHotel Reykjavik. The city is vibrant, interesting & worth exploring best of all when it comes time to go diving every tour operator out there offers hotel pickup! Arctic Adventures offers daily snorkels and dives at the fissure complete with a tour of Thingvellir national park & hot cocoa & cookies when you get out of the perpetually cool (2*c or 35F) water.
Palancar Gardens off the coast of Isla Cozumel in Mexico is one of the best wall dive sites in the world. As Palancar is part of the National Park it is well protected and has huge healthy coral formations, multiple (optional) swim-throughs, and a wall that drops down to 130 ft. This dive site really will blow your mind. Expect to see turtles, green moray eels, eagle rays (only during the season), and nurse sharks (all year round).
The depth of this dive is between 30- 80 feet and it is a great reef to dive for all experience levels. Beginners can stay to the side and above the reef and more experienced divers can go deeper and do the swim-throughs. The average visibility diving in Cozumel is 100ft all year round. You will need an open water certificate to dive here. Although it is possible to do this dive on a discover scuba dive as it is often used as a first dive site.
The dive company I recommend in Cozumel is Scuba Tony. I did my advanced certificate with them and I would never dive with anyone else over there. The dive masters are awesome and their equipment and boats are in top condition.
If you are going to Cozumel to dive you are better to stay further south so you are closer to the better dive sites. Most hotels have a dock where the boats can pick you up from. If you stay further north most dive companies will not pick you up. I recommend staying at the Fiesta as it is in an ideal location and has great facilities.
Getting to Cozumel is easy as the Island has its own airport with many international direct flights. Alternatively, you can fly into Cancun and then take a connecting flight to the Island, or take a taxi or ADO bus to Playa del Carmen. From Playa you will need to take the 40-minute ferry over to Cozumel.
Contributed by Claire from Claire’s Itchy Feet
Jeju Island – South Korea
The exotic Jeju Island is a stunning and extremely popular holiday destination among Korean and foreign tourists. The island is often referred to as the Hawaii of Korea. Not only is it stunning, but it also has so much to offer, from great hikes to amazing beaches, yummy food, and great water activities like kayaking, snorkeling, diving and many more.
All around the island, there are many different diving spots and schools. But the creme de la creme diving spot is around the Seongsan Ilchulbong (sunrise peak). This natural phenomenon is a volcanic crater created more than a hundred thousand years back as a result of volcanic eruptions. This site is now a protected UNESCO heritage site.
The warm water around the peak attracted a wide array of tropical marine life and soft corals, which are absolutely stunning. Diving in Jeju Island and the rest of South Korea is mostly a summer activity as the rest of the year the water will be too cold for divers and instructors. On top of that during autumn and winter, the currents around the island are rather strong and dangerous for inexperienced divers.
The recommended school to dive with is Seongsan Diving Resort as offers diving packages to both unlicensed and licensed divers, making this the best location for beginner and advanced divers. I recommend you rent a car and drive in Jeju, but the school is also accessible using public transportation. When visiting Jeju Island, stay in Jeju City and use this as a base to explore the island.
Contributed by Marie from Be Marie Korea
Philippines: Apo Reef
33 Km off the coast of Sablayan in Occidental Mindoro Province, Philippines, you’ll find the Apo Reef. This is the largest coral reef in the Philippines, while in the world is only second to the Australian Great Barrier Reef.
The reef develops on two connecting sections divided by a channel with a white sandy bottom of 30 mt maximum depth. The variety of the flora and fauna in the protected area of the Apo Reef Natural Park is surprising and overwhelming. As you start going down inside the channel, you are instantly surrounded by clouds of snappers and will get to see jacks, barracudas trevallies, squirrel and parrotfishes, triggerfishes, gobies, groupies, reef sharks and the list of the 385 species found in the area goes on.
It is easy to spot turtles (even the rare green turtle) and dolphins, and overall you will meet large schools of fishes. Within one dive-trip from Sablayan, you will normally arrange three dives, and you need the Advanced Open Water Certificate to dive Apo Reef. The visibility in Apo Reef is just incredible and makes for a breath-taking experience. The most visited site of the reef is South Corner.
The Mariposa diving centre on the Tiny Pandan Island is run by a mix of Philipino and European experts and has been organizing day-trips and overnights at Apo Reef for more than 20 years. The centre provides training up to dive-master and is part of the Pandan Island Resort, which offers hut-like accommodation for every budget on a semi-private island and delicious, rich buffet meals. This is your best option to stay at while you visit Apo Reef, as they can take you to the reef with a 90 minutes boat trip.
To get to Pandan Island from Manila by plane to San Jose and by public bus/jeepney to Sablayan where a tricycle can take you exactly to ‘Punta in front of Ludi ‘s place’. From there a Bangka will cross the 300 mt of sea waters to Pandan Island.-from Manila by land and ferry: take a bus to Batangas and the Montenegro Lines ferry to Abra. From Abra, get on a bus to Sablayan, then follows the directions as per the previous point.
The Belize Barrier Reef makes up one-third of the MesoAmerican Reef (the second largest coral reef system in the world after the Great Barrier Reef), stretching 190 miles along the Central American country’s coastline. Protected since 1996 as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the reef is the #1 tourist attraction in Belize, with Scuba diving attracting nearly 50% of the country’s annual visitors.
Thankfully removed from the List of World Heritage in Danger in 2018, the reef’s diverse array of walls, pinnacles, holes, and reef flats are home to an exceptional array of aquatic life (including 70 hard coral species, 35 soft coral species, 500 species of fish, and hundreds of invertebrates). During our two dives (at depths ranging from 15 to 60+ feet), we had exceptional visibility and saw a Nurse Shark, Moray Eel, several Spotted Rays, a Sea Turtle, Pufferfish, Lobsters, and thousands of colorful fish.
Hamanasi Adventure & Dive Resort caters to Scuba divers and offers a variety of daily snorkeling and diving tours. Located less than a mile from the Garifuna culture of Hopkins Village, this excellent eco-resort also boasts beautiful lodge-style rooms with hot tubs on the private patio as well as a restaurant serving up fresh seafood daily.
Domestic flights from Belize International Airport to Dangriga are available on Maya Air or Tropic Air. The staff at Hamanasi Adventure & Dive Resort can arrange this flight for you, as well as an airport transfer to the resort.
Contributed by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett of Green Global Travel
Tiputa Pass, French Polynesian Islands
The Tiputa Pass is considered one of the worlds best dive sites, in particular to see pelagics. Diving in Rangiroa you’re likely to see manta rays, leopard rays, grey reef sharks, white tip reef sharks, black tip reef sharks, lemon sharks and even great hammerhead sharks. If you’re an advanced diver, you can head depths of 30m or more and see tiger sharks. There are many options, but it is common to do a drift dive through the pass, either on the incoming or outgoing tide.
The pass is popular with experienced divers due to the strong current, however open water level divers are allowed to dive it. I recommend diving with Top Dive, who are very safety conscious, which is particularly important considering the remote location. The visibility is generally very good.
Va’a i Te Moana is a lovely family run pension a short walk from the Tiputa Pass. Double rooms start from £141.50 (19000 CFP) including breakfast. I highly recommend staying here not only because of a convenient location but also it is also very beautiful.
Kia Oras, is another option, it is a luxury resort with over water bungalows and beach villas. Top Dive have a dive shop on the property, so it’s great if you’re planning on doing lots of dives. A beach bungalow with hot tub starts from £331 (44 460 CFP).
To get to Tiputa, I would suggest flying to Pape’ete, Tahiti, and then take a flight to Rangiroa. The airport is in the center of the small island, with most of the hotels and accommodations being on the southern end of the island; I would suggest staying on the Northern end of the island as this is where Tiputa Pass is.
How Do You Choose?
With all of these great dives, it is going to be hard to choose just ONE to commit to for your next trip. I would suggest taking a cruise and hitting several, or find friends to stay with and do them all throughout your lifetime. Go with the dive that speaks to your heart, that you have the certifications for and let fate take you on an underwater journey that not many are brave enough to take.
To all my fellow divers, I salute you – happy bubble blowing!