5 Tips for Maintaining Balance While Traveling

The traveling life hasn't stopped since my two-month long journey through Europe in May and June. Granted, I asked the Universe for this lifestyle of steady movement and exploration. Yet I underestimated the toll it can take on mental/physical health and relationships. 

This summer's hectic schedule led me to discover quickly how stability can waver when acclimating to a new place, or adventuring on a multi-day trip in Buttercup, or venturing on a 13-hour road trip for an outdoor trade show. 

Lake Como at sunset. May 2017

I've learned a few important lessons about making the most of my time away from home, while staying grounded and maintaining a sense of normalcy. If you’re a traveler, try a few of these tips and see if they help sustain you on your next trip. 

  1. Find a Daily Routine: Pack light, but bring with you a ritual that keeps you grounded. For me, I love waking up in the morning and centering myself with coffee and journaling. Beginning each day with dedicated quiet time helps clear my mind and keep me balanced when travel woes get thrown in my path. 
  2.  Don’t Overplan: Before arriving in Rome, I had a ridiculously long list of sites to see and things to do. Realistically, I had only 4 days and I did need to sleep at some point. I ended up focusing on the experiences that were most important to me and embarking on one larger expedition a day (ex: visiting the Vatican). This left time for spontaneous exploration and I didn’t feel anxious trying to see everything.   
  3.  Stay Active: Vacation should be about getting some rest and relaxation. However, keeping active helped me resist lethargy, keep my bodily functions in check, and my stress levels low. The type of exercise doesn’t need to be overly exerting. If you're in a city, walking to your destination instead of riding public transportation is an easy option. 
  4.  Indulge, but don’t Overindulge: I learned this the hard way by going on an everyday gelato spree. Just because there is a gelateria on every corner does not mean I need to stop and order from all of them. There seems to be this accepted truth that it’s okay to over consume just because we’re “on vacation”.  But eating and drinking too much will quickly catch up with your physical and mental health. Everything in moderation.
  5.  Let Go Of Work: As much as possible. We can connect virtually anytime, anywhere. That fact does not make working during vacation acceptable. Research even shows that you’ll be more effective when you return to work if you use vacation to truly unplug. Try repeating this mantra: “I deserve this time for rest, relaxation, and exploration.”

Travel: Bonneville Salt Flats, Utah

Half asleep and barely responsive, eight of us piled into one car headed for Salt Lake City, Utah in mid July. Departure time was 4:15am and Google maps informed us we had 13 hours of time to fill as we ventured across three state borderlines. And, those 13 hours did not include bathroom and snack breaks! 

This was our journey to Outdoor Retailer, the trade show that welcomes retailers, manufacturers, suppliers and outdoor industry professionals to gather in one place and talk about trends, make connections and build brands.

I was excited to partake in the festivities this year after hearing the legendary tales of OR Summer 2016. Though, one of the most notorious parts of the trip had zero to do with the trade show. It was the epic camp trip in the desert that occurred right after. Destination?  Bonneville Salt Flats.

Said to be one of the most unique natural features in Utah, Bonneville Salt Flat is east of Salt Lake City along I-80.  It stretches over 30,000 acres and was formed when the ancient lake Lake Bonneville dried up. 

The fragile environment changes from completely desolate to flourishing, dotted with desert plants and curious animals. Designated an Area of Critical Environmental Concern in 1985, the flats are administered by the Bureau of Land Management and overnight stays are prohibited. However, camping is encouraged on surrounding BLM public lands.

So as Outdoor Retailer 2017 came to an end, friends, friends of friends, and even a few strangers began the drive east for a night filled with tacos, games, storytelling, an unforgettable sunset and a peaceful sleep under the stars.

Along with the images I captured, I’ve sprinkled in some of my favorite photos from my fellow campers. Links to their portfolios are provided upon hover of the image and I urge you to check out their creative work.

Photo by Where to Willie
Photo by Laura Hughes

Photo by Laura Hughes

Photo by Johnie Gall

Photo by Johnie Gall

Photo by Ben Matthews

Photo by Ben Matthews

Photo by Johnie Gall

Photo by Johnie Gall

Photo by Laura Hughes 

Photo by Laura Hughes 

Photo by Laura Hughes 

Photo by Laura Hughes 

Photo by Where to Willie 

Photo by Where to Willie 

Photo by Johnie Gall

Photo by Johnie Gall

Photo by Where to Willie 

Photo by Where to Willie 

4 Ways to Connect With Locals & Enrich Your Travels

Out of all the cities and countries I visited in Europe this spring, the locations where I spent a significant time with locals had the most impact on me.

Connecting with locals emphasized that traveling is so much more than an itinerary and collecting photos. Travel is strongly enhanced by who and how we interact with the people that live there. It's what we learn about different cultures and how it alters our beliefs and opinions. It's the stories we collect and can't wait to share with our friends back home. It's vulnerability with other dynamic human beings and finding common ground despite different upbringings. 

Fisherman in Portovenere, Italy. Traveling and connecting with locals to enrich your travels. 

Connecting with locals is the best thing you can do to receive a more intimate and genuine experience of a new destination. 

So how do you do it? 

  1. Utilize Friends of Friends: Start with people in your immediate circle and tell them your travel plans.  Ask if they know anyone nearby that would be interested in meeting up or hosting you.  This really worked in my favor while I was in London and made me want to stay longer than my original 1-week plan. An email introduction from one friend to another led me to an expat from Seattle. My first day in the city, I immediately dropped my bags at her apartment and we spent the day walking around the city as she pointed out the main attractions in Picadilly Circus, Leicaster Square, Covent Garden, Westminster and Buckingham Palace. It was a great way to orient myself in a new city and a much more enjoyable walk with company. My jackpot win for London was staying with the coolest couple, in one of the trendiest neighborhoods, all thanks to a friend who reached out on my behalf and put in a good word. They got to know my interests and gave me recommendations based on what I was excited to learn and see. It was also really wonderful to come home after a day exploring and share a meal with friends who just days ago were strangers!
  2. Talk to Your AirBNB host: This is, of course, assuming you are using AirBNB.  And if you don't, here is my argument for why you should. I think the best benefit of AirBNB is the ability to share space with a local. More than half of my destinations in Europe involved renting out a room in someone's house/apartment. Not only did this turn out to be the most cost effective option, but I found most hosts really want to share their culture and city with you.  We shared great wine and conversation with our host in Florence. We ate breakfast and learned where to find the best-baked croissants in Paris. Our host in Tuscany cooked a 9-course meal with the most delicious ingredients. We took every suggestion our host in Rome gave us and experienced the city through his eyes.  If an AirBNB host is offering a room in a shared space, they are more than likely eager to meet travelers and share information.  Make friends and utilize their knowledge! 
  3. Search on Social Media: Look up tags and places on Instagram to find people who are in the area. It might sound like a creeper tactic, but I find it genius.  At home and abroad, Instagram has connected me to great people! In France, I found a fellow photographer and blogger by searching for ' third wave coffee' in the town we were staying. I immediately messaged her and a day later, we were sitting in a cafe enjoying coffee and forging a friendship. The day evolved to her giving my friend and I a tour of the town, a trip to the outdoor market where she became our gracious translator and an impromptu photo shoot.
  4. Make Conversation with Your Server, Barista, Taxi Driver, etc: This suggestion might be more challenging if you are working with a language barrier, but I've found most foreigners will appreciate the effort you make to speak their language.  The best recommendations come from those who actually live in the area. I like to ask where they would go for dinner, which museum they would choose to spend a day in, where to catch the best sunset, etc. There are so many places you can't find online or in a guide book that are worth exploring.  Everyone has different interests so you're bound to get a variety of answers and options to choose from. 

Do you connect with locals while traveling? Has it brought deeper meaning to your trips? Share in the comments below! 

A Twist on the Classic Ten Essentials

It's exhausting work carrying a backpack full of gear up a mountain.  In between heavy breaths and wiping away sweat I always wonder, "Could I have packed more efficiently?" Or, "Am I carrying something that's not a necessity?"

Summer backpacking in the Wallowas, Eagle Cap Wilderness, Oregon

The answer is always, yes, I am definitely porting things that are considered nonessential. We've actually coined a phrase for these items, 'the nonessential essentials.' 

Backpacking through the Eagle Cap Wilderness in Oregon. Summer 2017

In addition to the 'Classic Ten Essentials', here is a list of items (some practical, some impractical) we pack that makes each backcountry experience enjoyable, delicious and sometimes even a little luxurious. 

1. Travel Coffee Kit- If you haven't read my previous post on the travel coffee kit, now would be the time to do it! All good mornings start with a great cup of coffee, and this post outlines the the items we use to make it happen.

2. Nut Butter-  Peanut Butter has been the staple of backpacking trips for a long time. Nowadays, there are more options than Jif and Skippy to choose from. Yum Butter's heavenly almond butter comes in a squeezable go anywhere pouch and includes chia, hemp seed and goji berries. I like it combined with oatmeal or bananas but frequently eat it right out of the pouch.
**Bonus: Every time you buy one jar or pouch of Yumbutter, you help feed a child with malnutrition. Read more about their work with Buy One| Feed One here

Yum Butter Superfood almond butter comes in a squeezable pouch and includes chia, hemp seeds and goji berries.

3. Hammock- Where there are trees, there is the potential to hammock! Kick off the hiking boots and settle in for a solid afternoon nap. 

ENO hammocks provide an ultimate chillax experience.

4. Skin Care Solutions- Being outdoors is harsh on the skin.   At the end of the day, my skin is a toxic mix of sunscreen, sweat, and dirt.  Before going to bed I reach for Ursa Major's face wipes that help clean, exfoliate and hydrate.  Extra points for the refreshing aroma of orange, fir and lavender.

5. Hot Sauce- I don't know anyone who is enthusiastic about eating dehydrated food. But dehydrated food jazzed up with hot sauce? Instantly more enticing.  We bring a small bottle of Maria Sharp's hot sauce to drizzle on our dinner meals.  Good to go is elevating my camp meals to a new delicious level with flavors like vegetable korma and pad thai.  

Good to go food has delicious flavors and makes camp meals actually enjoyable! 

6. Sandals-  Teva universal premier sandals are perfect to slip sore and tired feet into once camp has been set up. They are water ready, quick drying, and has a contoured footbed that keeps arches happy. Mine have walked hundreds of miles since I purchased them and are still holding strong. 

7. MPowered Lights- Headlamps are an obvious pack choice, but how about including these inflatable solar lights instead? With the goal of making an affordable clean energy product, MPowered has developed a lightweight, durable and waterproof light called Outdoor 2.0. An adjustable strap allows it to clip to a backpack and charge it while hiking. It's ready to light up the campsite by nightfall. 

Light up your campsite using MPowered solar lights.

8. Games- There is beauty in solitude and a lack of 'things to do' while camping, but games are a great way to pass the hours and engage with other campers.  I could spend hours beating Jared at Monopoly cards! 

9. IPA- A post-hike beer is a delicious rewards worth working for.  Packing in beers works best if they can be chilled in a lake or river and served ice cold. Remember "Leave No Trace" principals and pack out what you pack in. 

A cold beer is well deserved after a long day of hiking. Chill in a lake or river until dinner time.

10. Book & Journal- Ran out of things to say to a trail buddy? Need silence? I've found being outdoors with zero distractions is an ideal time to reconnect with myself through journaling. Zoning out with a good book in the hammock is also a great way to get some quiet time.

Do you have a few 'nonessential essentials' that you pack on backpacking trips? Share your items with me in the comments below!

Travel Coffee Kit Essentials

The routine of greeting the morning with coffee remains the same regardless of where we are in the world.   Even if the destination is the backcountry, we always make space in our backpacks for our travel coffee kit. Ya, we take our coffee seriously.  Some are fascinated by our commitment to a great cup of jo. Others can't understand why we won't just pack Starbucks Vita Instant Coffee and call it good.  But when morning comes around, people gravitate towards our set up. Because it's really hard to resist a freshly ground cup of coffee.... especially if you can enjoy it while watching the sunrise on a mountain! 

Travel coffee kit essentials. Making coffee during sunrise on a backpacking trip in summer.Photo by Brooke Fitts

What makes up the essential items in our travel kit? 

Aeropress: Jared gifted me with an Aeropress kit shortly after we met and my coffee game has never been the same. It's the most portable and durable device for brewing coffee, but we love it so much that we actually use it at home every morning.  
*Scooper, stirrer, funnel are included in the kit.

Disk/Metal Coffee Filter: Every Aeropress comes with a hefty stack of paper filters. I argue, why use paper when you can purchase a metal filter that's reusable and super easy to clean?   

Coffee Beans: Full disclosure, I am biased about my coffee since my family owns Lookout Coffee Roasters.  While our shelves are typically filled with third wave goodness from Lookout, variety is the spice of life right?  Other coffees we drink regularly include; George Howell, Kuma and Olympia.

Porlex Mini Grinder: To ensure we have the freshest cup of coffee, we grind the beans just before brewing.  Even though early, cold mornings on the mountain make me rethink this rule.

Insulated To-Go Mug: Those campfire mugs may be super cute but they're also super useless when it comes to keeping coffee hot. After our first cup in the morning, we make a second cup to share on the trail and keep it in an insulated mug. It's great for a post-lunch caffeine kick that keeps us moving towards our destination.

MSR Reactor Stove System: This is the 'fastest and most fuel efficient stove ever made' according to MSR. While I haven't tested enough to say if that's true, I can verify that this stove gets water to a boil in record time.  When patience is low and I just want a warm cup of deliciousness, this quick boil really works in my favor. 

Travel Coffee Kit essentials include an aeropress, fresh coffee beans and an MSRP Reactor stove to boil water. Photo by Brooke Fitts
An Aeropress is an easy and portable device to use while backpacking and camping. 
We are huge coffee enthusiasts and always bring a coffee travel kit with us wherever we go! Even when we're on a mountain top. 

Are you a coffee enthusiast too? Do you think we're kind of crazy for always packing our own coffee beans and Aeropress? Share your thoughts with me in the comments below! 

*All photos by the talented Brooke Fitts