Travel Series: Research

“How do you find these places?”  

“How did you discover that?”

“Where do you hear about this stuff?”

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These are all questions that people ask when we travel.  I have been fortunate to find some pretty awesome spots during our adventures.  It is a testament to the research I do prior to our departure and to my desire to show my kids the world.  But keep in mind, when we road trip it is often a trip not a vacation.  There is not a lot of sitting and lounging by the pool with a cocktail and a good book.  I save those epically relaxing moments for Hawaii.  The point of a road trip in my opinion is to discover.  Discover new places, the beauty nature has to offer, local cultures, and roadside relics.  Research is a bit of a necessity to get the most out of your trip when adventuring.  

The easiest and cheapest research tool in the internet.  TripAdvisor.com is by far my favorite.  I also use RoadTrippers.com, Pinterest, and just an old fashioned Google search.  TripAdvisor is an asset when searching for a place to stay.  You have the option to search hotels, motels, inns, private rentals, campgrounds, and pretty much any other alternative lodging you can think of.  I always read the reviews to make sure our lodging fits my requirements.  I do take them with a grain of salt as some people can have extremely high expectations or will find fault in pretty much anything.  But if there is a consistent complaint that keeps popping up I assume it is pretty valid.  TripAdvisor also has restaurants, things to do, and forums that you can search by location.  On our way to Glacier National Park we found the best Philly Cheesesteak we have ever had via TripAdvisor (side note, that Philly cheesesteak was from a food truck in Coeur d’Alene, ID of all places!)

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RoadTrippers.com is a decent search tool.  I have not been in love with their site as much as I used to be, but it is still a free resource that I have at the tips of my fingers.  You have the ability to map your route and choose the amenities you want to pop up along your way.  This includes lodging, eats, gas stations, photo ops, nature opportunities (ie. hiking, water sports, etc.), and roadside attractions.  This is convenient for those moments when you need to get the kids out of the car before World War III erupts.  I think my frustration with their site, and especially their app, is that is not as user friendly as it has the potential to be.  

With Pinterest I will create a board specifically for my trip and search their site for locations along our route.  If I find something by doing a Google search I will pin it to my board.  In addition to searching locations, Pinterest has a plethora of handy tips for roadtripping and traveling.  Need games to keep the kids entertained?  Got it.  Want some suggestions for healthy travel snacks?  They have it.  Packing tips?  They have several.  Both of these beauties below were found via Pinterest:

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The second greatest asset you can have in your research arsenal is a small travel library.  I have personally found books to be a must when travelling as I am one of those people who likes to have a physical book in my hand to refer to.  This is not a must for everyone so truly it depends on you and your research style to determine if books are a needed tool for your travels.  My favorite publishers are Frommer’s, Lonely Planet and Moon.  Each publisher has many authors, all of whom specialize in the area they write about.  Therefore some publishers’ books will be great while others will be so-so.  I always do an Amazon search and go over book reviews to make sure I am getting a valuable research tool.  My main objective is to find a book or books that will walk me through a destination, whether it is a city, state, or national park.  I like the book to break the location up into regions and give unbiased reviews on places to eat, sleep, activities and attractions.

Locals.  They know all the good spots.  Be friendly, strike up a conversation, and ask them.  You would be surprised at the details they will offer.  When people love and take pride in where they live they are often happy to share local gems with you.  We have found restaurants this way (a big thank you to the gentleman who told us where to find the best bison burger we ever tasted while in West Yellowstone), scenic spots that have taken our breath away, and discovered interesting bits of history and information.  While standing in line in at a deli in Washington DC I struck up a conversation with a secret service agent.  His sandwich suggestion was out of this world (FYI it was A Wreck at the PotBelly Sandwich Shop)!  Also during our trip to DC we scored a unique once-in-a-lifetime tour of the White House with a secret service agent.  How?  By talking with an agent.  Turned out we were all from the same area and had lots to talk about.  He found us during his lunch break and took us behind the scenes to the kitchen, flower shop, and behind the ropes of the dining room.  That rug we are standing on?  Oh yeah, the First Lady Michelle Obama picked that out.  Those black scorch marks around the door we are standing in front of?  Relics from the War of 1812 when the British set fire to the White House.  He arranged for another agent to give us a personal tour throughout the rest of the house that is open to visitors.  That tour was a wealth of information and the experience is one that I will value and treasure for the rest of my life. Now I am not saying you are guaranteed a private tour if you visit the White House and start chatting up an agent.  But you may just end up learning some interesting stuff or at the very least a great place to eat.  The benefits of a little conversation and kindness are amazing.

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The time you invest in research is ultimately up to you.  For me it is half the fun and I truly find joy in it the whole process.  Just a little research has the potential to add so many memories to your travels. That one trail you hike can lead you to unimagined beauty, that one restaurant you discover can give you a meal that you will never forget, and that one quirky destination will always give you that story of, “Remember the time we…”  Never before have we had so many amazing resources at our fingertips.  Get the most out of it and take your trip from good to great.

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Maya Rose Turns One ~ Event Photography ~ Walnut Creek, California

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||Styling & Event Coordination by:  Simply By Bethaina||

http://simplybybethaina.com/wedding-event-planning/

||Vintage Rentals by:  Trunks and Tales||

http://www.trunksandtales.co

||Cake by:  Just Bake Cause||

http://justbakecause.com

||Florals by:  Flower Girl Em||

https://www.facebook.com/Flower-Girl-Em-926438277468570/

||Venue:  The Gardens at Heather Farm||

https://gardenshf.org

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Travel Series: Budgeting Part 1

I often get questions about our travels.  If you haven’t followed me on Instagram (@pixelpagesphotography) you may not know we are big travelers.  We have a passion for exploring new places and adventuring.  National parks, our annual road trip to Washington, camping, a tropical oasis, a visit to the family cabin, it all gives us stars in our eyes.

Probably the most common question is “How do you afford/budget travel?”  To people on the outside it seems like we are constantly visiting some place, and I get it.  It can really add up if you don’t budget, save, and plan accordingly.  To answer this question requires a somewhat lengthy response because it is made up of multiple components.

For big trips we typically plan at least a year in advance.  We are definitely not spontaneous travelers.  My husband and I actually find enjoyment in the whole planning process and have too many “adult responsibilities” to just take off a moment’s notice.  Other reasons for advance planning is securing the dates you want at a popular destination (Yellowstone and Yosemite will start booking up a year in advance, same for my favorite hotel chain in Oregon, and other popular national parks and cities), my husband’s job, and getting the best rates.  Here in California many of the most popular campsites will book within minutes of being released.  That age old mantra “fail to plan, plan to fail” can be pretty accurate for travel.

Once our plan is in place we then have an idea of how much we will need for our adventure.  This includes the cost of getting there, lodging, food, excursions, souvenirs, and other miscellaneous items.  Our tax return is a big part of our travel budget.  To supplement it my husband will work some overtime and I will use a chunk of my income.  Sometimes I will have a garage sale or sell things on a Facebook group just so I have an envelope of cash.  Why donate it if you can sell it?

I am passionate about road trips.  My husband, welllllll, not so much.  When we first started dating he told me he would hop on a plane and meet me in Yellowstone.  Now he tows a trailer there.  So I will take what I can get and chalk that up to a win.  Road trips require a lot of lodging.  We do not stay five star, but we want clean (definitely no ick factor!), located in safe area, and nicer than a Motel 6.  To be blunt, I don’t want to be afraid of getting an STD while sleeping in a hotel bed or having my car broken into.  That being said, I also love to stay places that are a little different or as I call them, “quirky”.  Often times these locations are cheaper, but have more to offer in the scenery department.  We have stayed in a treehouse, a few yurts, a rustic homesteader’s cabin, a KOA cabin, and a teepee on an Indian reservation.  But these will also typically require you to bring your own bedding and are absolutely more rustic.  But listening to the distant sound of the fog horn along the Oregon coastline, waking up to a mossy forest bathed in dew, and watching cobalt waves gently lap the lakeshore, well those are moments that you will never get at a big chain hotel.  Road trips aside some of our travels require an airplane and more luxurious accommodations.  I am have a phobia of flying so direct flight (a good drugs) is a must.  The moment the destination and dates are set my husband is researching airfares.  He has found some awesome fares by booking early.

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http://nfhostel.com

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http://www.blackfeetculturecamp.com

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http://koa.com/campgrounds/crescent-city/

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http://treehouses.com/joomla/index.php/treesort

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http://oregonstateparks.org/index.cfm?do=reserve.dsp_cabinsyurts

 

Although we are big foodies we will usually provide our own snacks and some meals (breakfast and/or lunch) while traveling.  This will save you a decent amount of dough.  If you are road tripping stopping by a store is not a problem.  If you are traveling by plane it can be a bit more challenging.  In Hawaii we rent a car and will make a stop at the grocery store.  In Disneyland I discovered Kroger’s will deliver to your hotel if you shop online.  In Washington D.C. we shopped online at Safeway and had our groceries delivered to the hotel.  It was a bit of a hassle with the delivery so I would definitely check with the grocer and the hotel on whether they can accept the delivery on your behalf.  Our friends took an Uber to the closest grocery store and did some shopping rather than deal with delivery. But this is really a money saver when traveling with kids.  Food can quickly eat up your budget.  I will usually bring our own coffee maker and coffee.  This isn’t only monetary though.  My husband and I like our coffee really strong.  Like, really strong.  Hotel coffee just doesn’t cut it.  So we bought a small coffee maker that travels with us.  It has seen as many states as we have!

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Souvenirs, the dreaded souvenirs…My kids would rapidly drain our travel fund with crap souvenirs if we let them.  Four years ago during our camping trip to Crater Lake National Park we decided that we would buy the kids t-shirts as souvenirs.  If they wanted something else it was up to them to purchase it.  We got sick of them wanting what amounted to useless junk that either fell apart or sat in the corner collecting nothing but dust.  Months before our trip they have the option of earning money by doing chores.  This money may be used to buy whatever they want during our travels.

Hopefully this answers some travel related questions.  I will be addressing more questions in future posts, but in the meantime, if you have any just email me at:  pixelpagesphotography@gmail.com.  May the following images inspire you to get out there and see the world.  Take some time to wander, adventure, and create a lifetime of memories.

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