Tags Posts tagged with "Adventure"


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Adventure is a funny thing. We have heard the word used and over-used on so many occasions, but have you ever stopped to truly think about what it means? Adventure is the only thing that you can spend all you have, yet somehow make even more.

This summer I had the incredible opportunity to embark on a journey in which we visited thirteen states. “The Great Westward Adventure” changed me, and also my outlook on this beautiful nation I am privileged to live in.

The Pacific Northwest region is exquisite, somewhat uncharted territory. We left from Arkansas and visited Iowa, Minnesota, North and South Dakota, Montana, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, Nebraska, and Missouri.

The trip was partially to help us find ourselves, but in ways we found so much than we anticipated.

We camped in a tipi in North Dakota, visited national parks in which we witnesses wild buffalo walking right beside our vehicle. In South Dakota we saw quaint small towns and of course the not so quaint Mt. Rushmore. After camping out, Montana gave a gorgeous display of God’s handiwork with cascading, snow capped mountains and crystal clear streams and rivers. The views were breath taking in every sense of the word. The majesty of the mountains took our breath away, as well as the hike up them.

Washington had a variety of activities from coffee and ferry rides in Seattle to awe-inspiring mountain ranges in Olympic National Park, Mount St. Helens and Mt. Rainer. Oregon might have put the icing on the cake of adventure for me. We stayed in downtown Portland the very same week as the Rose Festival, a carnival and Fleet Week. That being said, there were sailors in uniform everywhere we looked. That sight was almost as pretty as the mountain ranges.

When we departed the city we drove to Multnomah Falls and Oneonta Gorge. The waterfalls were lovely to say the least. The last sight of Oregon we took in was the incredible coastal region. Thor’s Well, The mighty waves and even the fog struck wonder into our hearts.

Unfortunately our trip was cut short in Idaho when we were involved in accident. We were driving at about eighty-five miles an hour when we unexplainably lost control and began spinning toward oncoming traffic. We flipped three times. The vehicle came to an abrupt halt, landing upside down leaving us having to crawl out of the driver’s side window. My friend and I walked away from that horrifying accident with only some bruises and scrapes. During the petrifying events, I never had one of those “life flash before your eyes” kind of moments. In an unexplainable sort of way, I knew that everything was going to be all right.

After our hospital stay and one night’s rest, We finished the trip in a rental car hitting Wyoming, Nebraska, Utah, Colorado and Missouri. Even though the accident took place, this trip was indeed the best one of my life.

We saw gorgeous views, met great people and more than anything, we made memories that will last a lifetime.

I am well aware that this piece was meant to highlight Independence, or a place that makes me feel free to be myself. If you really think about it, that is exactly what I have done. You see, there is not one specific place I can pinpoint that gives me this feeling, but rather the open road itself. It is there that all distractions seem to dissipate and the journeys begin to unfold. In between the white lines on the road is wherethe stories are made.

The beauty of adventure is also found here. I can choose anywhere I want to go, drive anything I want to drive, see anything my heart and eyes desire, and ultimately, expand my horizons and discover things I have never seen before. Travel is the most enlightening forms of independence. It is freeing and it is wide open. The road is waiting, where will it take you next?

About the Author:

Rachel is a writer for a youth magazine and also has a bi-weekely blog. She is a recent graduate of Ushan College and an avid traveler and adventure seeker. She enjoys photography, nature, painting, reading and exploring.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence Travel Writing competition and tell your story.

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I love to travel. Experience the culture, the people, the food…I absolutely love it. Going to Europe is on my bucket list and I can’t wait until that finally happens. Rome, Paris, Amsterdam, London…I feel like they’re waiting for me to come and discover their grandeur. People have told me that traveling changes you; that you come back a better and more knowledgeable. Some people have said they found the meaning of life, or their calling, what they’re supposed to do. I sincerely hope that happens to me, since I am sheltered. I admit it: I live in a big house, my parents can afford to send me to any college I want, and I am told to follow my dreams and do what makes me happy. I know that others are not as privileged as I am. I want to help; I want to see everything, as much as I can. But for now, I’ll settle for adventures that occur in my dreams and one other place. I have been on many vacations, but my best travel escapes happen when I don’t even have to leave my house. Thinking back, I can count hundreds of places that I have been too, all the while curled under a blanket in my bed. “How can this be?” you might ask. One word: books. I fought with Harry, Ron, and Hermione against Voldemort, I trained at Camp Half-Blood with Percy and Annabeth, I discovered Narnia with Lucy…so many wonderful times and I didn’t have to carry a suitcase! Reading has always been my escape, since a lot of people were mean to me throughout elementary and middle school. I would lose myself in a world completely different from my own and stay there for hours. Book characters are absolutely lovely. They don’t judge, they take you with them on absolutely AMAZING adventures, and they certainly don’t mind when you take a Tumblr break to post about your ships and how you can’t even. This is kind of silly, but sometimes when I read an exceptional book, I can almost pretend that I’m standing there with them. When Katniss covered Rue with flowers, or when Minny put the you-know-what in the pie for Miss Hilly. I laugh, I cry…books have such an impact on our lives and we don’t even realize it. I can’t tell you how many times I’ll finish a book, go to bed, and then dream about said book, where I’m alongside my favorite characters! I think that really shows the merit of a good book. It made such an impact on you that you can’t help but think about it even in your subconscious. Traveling through books is just as important as real life traveling. Books are an escape, for the people who are too poor to travel or too scared. Those people are out there, and while they are saving up money to travel, they need something to find solace in through the dark times. I am one of those people, and I travel through books.  

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence Travel Writing competition and tell your story.

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As the cell door swings open, I’m greeted by what I can only assume is a giant. This seems like a fair assumption, as the man standing in front of me is at least 6’7” tall and must weigh over 300 lbs. But I do not run, because he greets me with a smile and I therefore deduce that he must be a friendly giant.

“Hello, I’m Luke Jelly,” the giant says in a thick Yorkshire accent. I can already tell I’m going to like him.

At this point I feel the need to assure you, dear reader, that my criminal record remains spotless. My digs for the night are, in actuality, a backpackers hostel housed in a former prison.

Located in the picturesque city of Ljubljana, Slovenia, Hostel Celica is a must for any adventurous traveler. It’s incredibly clean, welcoming, and gives you a chance to spend a night in jail without having to ask your parents for bail money. Taking full advantage of this unique opportunity, I’ve opted to stay in one of the hostel’s converted prison cells, complete with iron bars.

As I glance around the room, I find myself instantly impressed with prison living. It is, in a way, what I imagine Martha Stewart’s cell would look like. The colors are muted and zen, and there’s a small wooden desk nestled in the corner on which weary prisoners may write their loved ones. If it weren’t for the stark iron bars which currently adorn the windows, we could easily be in a bed & breakfast in some quaint seaside village.

Snapping back to real life, the giant (and my cellmate for the evening) informs me that he’s already taken the bottom bunk, and asks if I would mind sleeping on the top one. This seems fair enough, as top bunks in prisons aren’t generally designed with giants in mind, so I decide not to mention my tendency to hurl myself out of bunk beds in my sleep and instead nod in agreement.

As the giant crawls into bed, I place my hands on the cold iron bars of our cell door and reflect on my current situation. Yes, I could be at home right now, nestled in my familiar bed, hot water bottle tucked under one arm. But in all honesty, I’d rather be here, embracing the unknown in my small prison cell in Slovenia with a friendly giant named Luke Jelly.

And with that, I shut the cell door, click the lock into place and it’s time for lights out. I bid the giant goodnight, but he’s already fast asleep, the low rumbling of his snores beginning to fill the tiny cell we will call home for the night.

As I lie in my bed, a slight smile spreads across my lips. Tomorrow I will break free from the confines of my comfy little cell, and then the future is mine to do with as I please.

Gee, who knew a night in prison could be so liberating?

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence Travel Writing competition and tell your story.

Desperate to explore the world but unsure how to do it without breaking the bank? Veteran backpacker, Will Hatton from The Broke Backpacker, has been travelling the world for seven years now on a budget of just $100 a week. Today, he tells us his top tips for exploring the world and having epic budget adventures…

Couchsurfing in Venezuela, The Kidnap-Capital of the World

She met me at the border, all smiles and friendly holas. I looked around nervously, dozens of police and soldiers eyed me suspiciously. I was the only gringo in site. Sensing my unease, she gestured towards a battered car and we made our way past numerous army-check points. A fat officer with a scrunched up face, peered into the back of the vehicle and spotted me. I handed over my passport. Esthela talked rapidly in Spanish and my passport was returned, we sped away from the check-point like criminals fleeing the scene of the crime.

I had been in touch with Esthela for a few months now. I had been nervous about visiting Venezuela, literally everybody I had met, including Venezuelans, had warned me that it was an extremely dangerous country. Seeking more information, I had turned to the Couchsurfing forums. I had received dozens of messages from Venezuelans beseeching me to go elsewhere or face certain death whilst exploring their country. People were making out that Venezuela was as dangerous as Somalia, that to visit was to dance with death. Venezuelans, especially, seemed adamant that to visit was suicidal. I was extremely disappointed, I loved to get off the beaten track, I enjoyed Indiana-Jones-Esque travel but this was looking like it was simply going to be too dangerous. Perhaps I would have to cut Venezuela from my plans?

Like a sign from heaven, a message appeared in my inbox.

“It is a little dangerous here, sure. But, if you would like to come, I would love to show you around. You can stay with my parents and I can meet you at the border to help you cross safely”

Esthela had quickly become my guardian angel. Every time I heard a distressing rumour about Venezuela, I would ask her what was going on…

“Yes, definitely bring toilet paper, it can be hard to get. Just bear in mind that the government-run media cannot be trusted and that Venezuelans themselves exaggerate a lot of the facts. We have some major shortages at the moment, if you can bring us some coffee we will love you forever”

I had instantly headed to the nearest Colombian shopping mall and stocked up on coffee and powdered milk before crossing the border into Venezuela.

Overnight, I joined a legion of international smugglers ferrying crucial yet illegal supplies into Venezuela. Venezuela’s spiralling inflation and crimped economy means that it is in fact more profitable to smuggle milk into the country than cocaine (not that I was thinking of becoming an international cocaine smuggler, I wasn’t!).

With Esthela at my side, guiding me through the police border crossings, we had made it to San Cristobel, a small city just two hours from the Colombian-Venezuelan border. Here, I proudly presented Esthela’s mum with coffee and milk, the whole family were delighted and we instantly began an impromptu chess tournament.

I spent the next two days exploring the surrounding area with Estella who helped me gain a first-hand insight into what the heck is going on in Venezuela at the moment and offered me practical advice on how to travel around the country safely.

I have been involved with Couchsurfing for years and have surfed over a hundred times. For some reason though, throughout my trip in South America, I had found it extremely difficult to get a host.

Venezuela was to prove the exception to the rule, wonderful, kind and unique hosts such as Esthela seemed to be drawn to Couchsurfing; to helping foreign explorers discover Venezuela safely. Whilst in the country, I met many wonderful people but the nicest, most helpful and most outgoing were always Couchsurfers.

Couchsurfing may be dying a slow and painful death in some countries but, in Venezuela at least, it is flourishing. Venezuelans, keen to show the world that their crazy government does not represent all of Venezuela, are throwing open their doors, unrolling sleeping mats and inviting more and more travellers into their homes…

If you head to Venezuela, Couchsurf – it’s a truly wonderful experience and, without Estella, I imagine I may have had a far more difficult time getting to grips with the safety situation during the first crucial couple of days.

To Couchsurfing, and to the wonderful Esthela herself, I want to say a huge thank you – your welcome in my home, wherever that may be, at any time :)



About Will Hatton: Writer and photographer. Adventurer and vagabond. Master of the handstand pushup. Conqueror of mountains, survivor of deserts and crusader for cheap escapades. Will is an avid hitch-hiker, couch-surfer and bargain-seeker. He is a devout follower of the High Temple of Backpackistan and the proud inventor of the man-hug. Will blogs over at The Broke Backpacker about his adventures around the world, you can follow him on Facebook and on Twitter or, if your really friendly, hunt him down on the road for a cheeky pint.

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Desperate to explore the world but unsure how to do it without breaking the bank? Veteran backpacker, Will Hatton from The Broke Backpacker, has been travelling the world for seven years now on a budget of just $100 a week. Today, he tells us his top tips for exploring the world and having epic budget adventures…

The 7 Secrets To Travelling Cheaply! 

1: Couchsurf and meet awesome people!

When it comes to really getting to the heart of a destination, Couchsurfing is the best option! In case your not familiar with the concept, Couchsurfing is a hospitality program where you stay with a local in their home, often on their couch but just as often in a proper bed, for free! You may choose to cook for your host (it’s good form really) but the whole thing, even signing up, is based around free hospitality! Couchsurfing is an amazing platform which will help you make new friends and save your hard-earned cash.

Cave-surfing outside the ruins of Petra

I myself have couchsurfed all over the world; I have met amazing people and stayed in amazing places – once even crashing for a week in a rock-cut cave outside the ruins of Petra!

2: Buddy up! 

It sounds obvious but if you have a travel buddy, your buying power has just doubled! Suddenly, hotel rooms are half as much, taxis cost less and you can even share meals, if your on very good terms. If you can’t convince any of your friends at home to come with you then take a look online. Travbuddy and the Couchsurfing forums are both a good bet and you are bound to meet lots of cool people. Alternatively, simply choose THE most popular hostel you can find for the first couple of days; you are bound to meet loads of other cool people who will be heading in the same direction as you! If you have a travel buddy it also vastly improves your buying power when haggling.

3: Travel like a local

Locals know everything about their country, well, hopefully. They know where to find the best food, the best bars and they know how to get around cheaply! Take local transport wherever you can – buses, trains, trams, camels – the list is endless. Bear in mind that camels are ridiculously uncomfortable…

If your feeling particularly adventurous, why not try hitching? Hitchhiking is an amazing way to get around, it’s free, unique and you will meet lots of cool people.

4: Local food

From Pad Thai vendors on the infamous Khao San Road to the Tortilla ladies of Antigua, local food is delicious, cheap and plentiful! If you eat in restaurants aimed at tourists or in international restaurant chains you will really miss out on some of the best culture your destination has to offer. Take to the street; search out hole in the wall eateries, pancake wagons (seriously, pancake wagons…) and fruit stalls! By buying local food you will save a fortune!

5: Research!

Before you travel, do some research on your destination…

Travelling to India for a year long backpacking adventure? It would be helpful to know how to book trains in advance (it’s damn complicated!).

Hitching to Romania in the dead of winter? You may be interested to know that it snows… up to a foot thick… and that hitching is nearly impossible.

Determined to get past Burmese army checkpoints and into the highlands? One simple mouse click is all it takes to find out how to do this and not get caught!

Seriously, do your research. Knowing how to get from the train station to your hostel without taking a taxi is a good example; it takes about 1 minute to find out about local transport options online but it may save you up to a small fortune! Wikitravel is a good place to start.

6: Get a job!

Every now and again, you might be really close to running out of money… Do not despair, it is usually very easy to pick up work on the road. I’ve worked behind bars from London to Hanoi and everywhere in between, often for just a day at a time. You can usually find work in hostels in exchange for accommodation, flyering jobs abound upon the backpacker circuit and you can sometimes even find better jobs such as teaching english even if you don’t have any real qualifications; saying that, I strongly recommend investing in some skills before you head off travelling – it makes finding both volunteering placements and paid work a lot easier.

7: Network like crazy!

“Your aunt’s mum’s friend’s brother lives in Delhi? Great! Can I visit?”

Networking in India
Networking in India

This may sound silly but I’ve crashed with people who I really have a very random link to. Meeting up with people you kind of know can be a great way to save cash, land on your feet with a social network and really get to grips with the place your exploring!



About Will Hatton: Writer and photographer. Adventurer and vagabond. Master of the handstand pushup. Conqueror of mountains, survivor of deserts and crusader for cheap escapades. Will is an avid hitch-hiker, couch-surfer and bargain-seeker. He is a devout follower of the High Temple of Backpackistan and the proud inventor of the man-hug. Will blogs over at The Broke Backpacker about his adventures around the world, you can follow him on Facebook and on Twitter or, if your really friendly, hunt him down on the road for a cheeky pint.

Lisa Niver We Said Go Travel Camping with the Cows 2015 Sage Porter #CWTC2015
CWTC 2015

Moooooooooove Over Traditional Camping, time for something different!

Each May my family and I pack up our car with our tents, sleeping bags and gear and head out of our busy Los Angeles life for a weekend of relaxing camping. I’m not talking about your usual camping in the woods, secluded from other people, braving the elements with only what we can carry in our packs. Where we go there are no mosquitos, bears or snakes, oh no! But there are COWS, happy cows who graze every day in lush pastures.

Mooooooo CWTC
Mooooooo CWTC


One weekend a year for the past 4 years, the family owned Organic Pastures Dairy (who is celebrating their fifteenth year anniversary!) opens up their fields for a customer appreciation weekend of camping, games, family fun and all the raw milk you can drink (and if you’re my family, it’s a lot!)   This year there were 400 people, but you’d never know it, there’s so much space. It’s a two-day event that my family is already looking forward to for next year and we just left!

This year we arrived about 12:30 on Saturday afternoon. It was a perfect, warm afternoon. We picked our site towards the end of the field and started to set up our tents and shade tent as we waited for our friends to arrive.   The kids almost immediately took off to the hay maze (next year they will learn to put up the tent… next year) and as their friends arrived they took off as well.   The environment is one where the kids are free to run around as they want in the kid zone, or the fields, it’s a time where they get to explore and enjoy the openness of the fields.

Tents 2014 CWTC
Tents 2014 CWTC

After a brief welcome from the owners under a huge tent (filled with lots of seating, a toddlers play area, arts & crafts, refreshments and even a charging station for your phone) we headed back to our area for a relaxing drink and catch up with our friends.   The rest of the afternoon was filled with a tractor ride and tour of the farm, a milk chugging contest, a friendly game of Dunk the Dairyman, and my favorite… actually getting to milk a cow named Moolary (she was really adorable!)

Me, Lisa with WSGT & Moolary CWTC
Me, Lisa with WSGT & Moolary CWTC

VIDEO: Camping with the Cows 2015

Milk chugging 2015 CWTC
Milk chugging 2015 CWTC

After a delicious catered dinner everyone gathered around on blankets and camping chairs under the stars for a movie in the field. We watched A Bug’s Life on a huge outdoor screen with cookies and milk.   The kids snuggled in as the temperatures dropped to a lovely cool evening and once the movie was done, some went off to bed and some stayed up for s’mores around the bonfires (you just cannot have camping of any kind without s’mores!) We had a friend with a guitar playing in our group around the bonfire and an evening of fun.

Dunk the Dairymen CWTC
Dunk the Dairymen CWTC

On Sunday morning my kids and I awoke really early. They went off playing as the sunrise overtook the fields.   A bit later as more of the campers awoke everyone walked, jogged or rode the tractor to the site where Organic Pastures Dairy just broke ground for a new milk parlor that will open later this year.   The owners made a beautiful and emotional talk about their passion for sharing great health and a wonderful product with everyone gathered around.   Owners Mark (a former paramedic) and his wife Blaine (a former nurse) spoke of the nutrition, safety and comfort of their customers AND their cows.   Their milk goes through third party triple testing and can land in stores and farmer’s markets within 24 hours.   They also sell other products like cheese, butter (to die for!), cream and kefir.

Sunrise fun CWTC
Sunrise fun CWTC


CWTC 2015
CWTC 2015: Lisa and Sage won awards for social media participation during Camping with the Cows 2015

After, we headed back to our campsite and started to pack up our site.   We played a bit more and reluctantly got back in the car for our drive home.   Before heading on the road we stopped at their little store and filled up our cooler with milk, butter and cheese so we could make the coming week a bit more delicious.   We headed back home complaining that we only got to spend one night there at that peaceful, fun farm, but knowing our next trip back would only be a year away.   Moooooooooo!

Fresh field growing CWTC
Fresh field growing CWTC

GayWhistler at Hobbiton

article by Dean Nelson @GayWhistler PART 1 OF 2

An Unexpected Journey to Middle Earth

I really enjoyed my flight with Air New Zealand from Vancouver to Auckland, non stop on their Boeing 777-200. I arrived in plenty of time to YVR – Vancouver International and was greeted by a friendly smiling face behind the Air New Zealand premium checkin counter. The agent said, “Mr. Nelson, we had been expecting you!” I had been upgraded from economy to premium economy. I was really excited as I thought I would be able to try out the airline’s “cuddle class” known as their skycouch however on the 777 that seat category is unavailable (sky couch will be in service starting in October 2015 from Vancouver to Auckland).

I was able to use the electronic boarding pass on my apple watch which made going through security really easy, however checking in to the Air Canada (Code-shared with Air New Zealand) Maple Leaf Lounge, I had to remove the watch so it could pass under the scanner. Not very practical, but the novelty was fun. Boarding the flight to Auckland, the gate agents only wanted to see the paper boarding pass that had been stamped proving your international travel documents had been verified, so could not use the Apple travel feature for this international flight.
GayWhistler with Air New Zealand and Apple Watch

I had a good seat, 24A, for the outbound flight I did not see the sunset (a K seat would have been better) even though I had the whole row to myself I could not lay across the seats as the arms of the chairs are permanent, though had a lot of leg room and managed to get a good night sleep.

I suspect the Airline’s safety video must have played in and out of my subconscious with their captivating tale of Middle Earth and flying safe.

When I arrived into Auckland I was greeted by maori warriors and of course by the massive Weta Workshop dwarf sculpture. I had an idea of what my trip to New Zealand was about, but when I jumped into my rental car and zoomed my way down the highway towards Rotorua I began my unexpected adventure! I was really taken with the beautiful green rolling hills, the highway was easy to drive (once I wrapped my brain around I needed to be on the right side) and made excellent time. Since I had arrived so early in the morning I was able to make Hobbiton my first stop.
GayWhistler visits Hobbiton
I really had not planned to take in the sites of the film set of the epic “Lord of the Rings” and “Hobbit” blockbuster movie franchise, but since I was here I thought I should check it out. It was, after all, on my way to my destination. There was something really special stepping onto this farm in the middle of nowhere that suddenly you are swept into the movie magic and could imagine seeing Bilbo and his cohorts mingling about the Hobbit village. We learned how Peter Jackson was able to make the actors appear smaller or bigger depending on the shot. It was all very fascinating and really glad I made the stop.

Next up was to take in the adrenaline roll down the hill with a Zorb. Imagine what it would be like to be like “Ant Man” and get shrunk down and get swept up in a ball racing down a hill… well, no shrinkage needed with Zorb… just dive in and enjoy the roll down the hill.

After being tossed about it was time to continue my journey towards Rotorua. I had been traveling now for some 26-hours and thought it would be best to check in to my hotel.

After checking in and relaxing for a bit, aka a quick 30-min power nap, I found my second wind and was off to explore this wonderful Geo-Theromal city. The scent of sulfur became quite nostalgic for me as I had been here some 14-years prior and had many good memories. The city had grown a lot since my first adventure and really did not recall too many familiar places other than Whakarewarewa – the living Maori Village.

After wondering the village and taking in the Maori culture I headed to my “perfect cure” forGayWhistler at Polynesian Spa jet leg… a night at the spa! As the sun faded behind the hills across Lake Rotorua I checked in for my hot springs experience under the starry sky.

The Polynesian Spa is one of the oldest commercial hot springs in the Southern Hemisphere dating back to 1878. The alkaline pool Whangapipiro (now known as Rachel Spring) and the acidic pool Te Pupunitanga (referred to as Priest Spring) have both been used by the Maori for generations for their therapeutic, healing and curative properties.  The spa experience was wonderful.  It reminded me of the Onsens in Japan.  The primary difference is in New Zealand all the thermal pools are co-ed and bathing suits are required.  It was wonderful to just relax in the warm waters and stare up into the night sky. The night I was there the facility was fairly quiet so it was like I had the whole place to myself.  Had a great night sleep after.

Travel Resources

– Air New Zealand flies non stop from both San Francisco and Vancouver to Auckland. Visit: airnewzealand.ca
– Car Rentals – I use CarRentals.com to see what is out there and then will check the car company direct. In this case I used and rented directly with NUcarRentals.com they had great rates. The only down side was their office did not open until 7AM, so I had to wait at the Airport for 2-hours (5AM arrival) however weighing the extra $70 to have the car 2-hours earlier by using Avis really did not seem like such a good use of my budget (both time and money).
Hobbiton Movie Set Tour – was actually quite interesting. It was expensive at $75 but that did included a guided tour and some great Hobbit Lager or non-alcoholic Ginger Beer after the tour.
Zorb Rotorua – just down the road from Hobbiton are a variety of adventure tours to be had including Zorb!
– Need to unwind from an active day? I suggest the Polynesian Spa. It is a full service geothermal spa but if you want any body work done, I do recommend booking well in advance as they do book up quickly. polynesianspa.co.nz

Follow me on Social Media

You can follow Dean Nelson on Social Media at @GayWhistler on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, Pinterest

Be sure to follow @WeSaidGoTravel for other great travel tips and ideas

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What comes to mind when you think of Portugal? Cathedrals? Historic sites? Sixteenth Century explorers? Former colonies in Asia? Lethal jellyfish?

How about some of the best hiking in the world.


This past October, my wife Katherine and I hiked the Algarve, Costa Vicentina and Alentejo regions in SW Portugal. For the first four days we hiked along the Atlantic coast, including two days on the Rota Vicentina, the old fisherman’s’ trail that runs along the cliffs overlooking the ocean. Walking along the flat, sandy path on the cliffs we gawked at rugged headlands, walls of rock and empty crescent beaches pounded by foaming surf. We occasionally had to hike down a steep, narrow trail to a beach and back up again on the other side. In places we hiked through pine forests and waded through streams, soon to be waterfalls, as they rushed over the cliffs into the sea. Whitewashed fishing villages broke up the wild views every few miles. The trail was easy to follow, and we never needed to use the handheld GPS provided by Macs Adventure, the tour company that hosted us on this trip.

P1090462 P1090558

If this wasn’t the best four days of hiking I have ever done, it was damn close!

After the Rota Vicentina, a taxi shuttled us about an hour north and inland to the Alentejo region, a place of lakes, rolling hills and forests of oak and eucalyptus. As soon as we arrived at the Quinta do Barranco da Estrada, a lodge overlooking a lake, I plopped down on the patio in front of our cottage and decided to take the rest of the day off to sit, read and gaze at the lake and explore the lush gardens surrounding the lodge.


The next day we went for a six-mile hike along the roads and through a forest near the Quinta. The views from the road were not as dramatic as along the Rota Vicentina, but the landscape of low rolling hills, forests and vineyards was plenty attractive and matched our relaxed, easy going pace and mood.


The places we stayed during the trip, including the Quinta, added to the overall experience. Our accommodations for the first three nights were at the Aldeia da Pedralva, which is more like a village than a hotel. In fact, it once was a village with a population of about 200 people until it fell on hard times. Over the last several years the current owners purchased most of the cottages and converted the ghost town into a thriving hotel and jumping off point for hikers, surfers and tourists from around the world.

We ate every night at the excellent restaurant at the hotel. My favorite dishes were the baked camembert covered with berries and nuts, the rich, meaty chorizo, and the Portuguese classic, bacalhau (pronounced like the name of Tony Soprano’s massive brother-in-law), also known as salt cod on bread. It’s sort of like a very thick chowder or stew of cod, vegetables and garlic served in a hollowed out loaf of crispy bread, similar to the clam chowder in a bowl of sourdough bread served on Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco, but much better.


Our lodgings for our fourth and fifth night were at Cerca do Sul, a comfortable and intimate guesthouse close to the Rota Vicentina (about 2.5 miles). We ate all of our meals there. The breakfast buffet was extensive and varied and the dinners were some of the best of our trip. The place was small with only a handful of other guests while we were there, so our conversations involved more than just the usual exchange of pleasantries.

In fact, all of the people we met on the trail and in the lodges — mostly from the UK, Portugal, the Netherlands and Germany — were friendly and well informed. They were also polite enough to avoid the kind of argument that makes social interaction in the US such a minefield these days. That didn’t mean that the conversations weren’t interesting, just that they were always cordial. Maybe they agreed with everything I said.

And the wine! I’m not much of a wine drinker. I prefer my alcohol in the form of single malt whisky and west coast IPAs, but if I lived in Portugal, I might switch to the fermented grape. We drank local wine every night and never paid more than $11 for a bottle. As for the quality, I have to rely on the opinion of my much more sophisticated wife whose alcoholic preferences lean toward wine, vodka and tequila (not at the same time!). She was impressed.

Life is short and the world is big, so I try to avoid repeat trips to the same destination. But if I have a chance to return to Portugal, I’ll take it. There is more chorizo and bacalhau to eat, fine Portuguese wine to drink, and many more miles of the Rota Vicentina to hike.

(for more info and photos, check out Don’s Adventure Geezer blog on his website)



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What are the odds?

This is my new favorite game. My friends introduced it on our recent road trip from Tennessee to Idaho. One person in the group thinks of a task for someone else to complete, and challenges that person by asking “what are the odds” that he/she will do it. If they are up to the challenge, that person names their odds, one out of whatever. On the count of three, both people say a number out loud between 1 and the range stated. If the numbers match, the challenger wins and the person who named odds must complete the task. Obviously, the game is most fun when people get bold and set very low lines for odds.

Challenger: “What are the odds that you will eat this entire jalapeño pepper for breakfast?”

Me: “Hmm… One out of five”

Challenger: “Ok. One, Two, Three…

Both: “TWO”

That pepper went down even less smoothly than I thought it would.

This was really one of the more mild dares that happened over the course of the trip. I won’t go into detail about all the ridiculousness that was imposed, but you can imagine how heinously uncomfortable/embarrassing some of it was.

What are the odds that I would end up road tripping for three and a half weeks across the country? A few months ago, when I was traveling Europe, I would have said the odds were low. At that time, I was spending my savings to visit old friends and see new countries. I was satisfying my travel bug and looking forward to a long, relaxing summer in East Tennessee—or so I thought.It was this game and other such shenanigans in the company of good friends that made my summer trip Out West so memorable, but of course, the amazing whitewater, mountains, and rocks were pretty influential as well.

After enjoying a full month back home, I was restless again and ready for more adventure. Friends of mine had a private permit for a trip down the Middle Fork of the Salmon, a 100-mile section of class III-IV whitewater that rolls through the Idaho wilderness.

A separate group of friends had planned a climbing trip to Colorado for the week after the river trip was to end. If I was going all the way out to Idaho to kayak, why not take an opportunity to climb in Colorado as well?

I still had a little money left over, and I figured if I spent it wisely and played my cards right, I could link the two trips and make the most of my remaining time off school.

I didn’t know for sure whether the odds would work out in my favor, but I knew that I wanted to seize this chance while I had it. I knew that graduate school would make spontaneous adventures to new places much harder to realize.Was going on this trip an impulsive and irresponsible decision? Maybe. Could my time be better spent working in Knoxville, saving money, and preparing for the future? Perhaps. In a way, I was playing the odds that my savings would hold out; that I would find a place to live for graduate school after putting off my housing search to hit the road; that I would have enough time to pack for the big move after I returned home. To some degree, I was playing the odds that I would complete the trip healthy and unhurt, and physically able to move and start school at all.

So I went for it. I hopped in with friends from Tennessee and we trucked out to Idaho. We saw new cities and met new people along the way. We floated the river with old friends and a few new ones. We experienced nature in a way that most people never get to, from the bottom of a rugged river gorge, inaccessible by any road. Entirely self supported, we lived in our own isolated world of wonder for seven days. I didn’t regret one second of it.

Afterward, I hopped in a different car and rode to Colorado, seeking mountains and tall rock faces, playing the odds even further that everything would work out. It was there that I was reminded of the true weight of this game I was participating in.

On July 11, and again on July 12, hikers were struck by lightning within a radius of only a few miles in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado. Each strike killed one person and left others injured.They say lightning never strikes the same place twice, so what are the odds that lightning strikes would kill two people, in two days, within the same area?

I was spending that weekend in the town just outside the park. My friends and I were watching the weather carefully, knowing the dangers full well and bailing from climbs when prudent to do so.

The victims were not climbers; they were simply tourists on a short walk away from their cars, but news of the deaths spread quickly among the climbing community, because climbers pay close attention to the dangers of lightning. On a tall face or a high peak, storms can roll in suddenly, and often from the backside of the feature so climbers may never see it coming before it is upon them.

However, hearing of the lightning strikes on hikers did not convince me that I was on the losing end of a game of chance. In fact, it did quite the opposite.  The sudden deaths reminded me that life is fragile and short, and that every day we play ‘what are the odds’ that we will live to see another.

The tragedies of the lightning struck so close to home because as a climber, I have long accepted such risks inherent to the activity. I know how to minimize the risk, but ultimately, I can be killed by lightning just as easily as unfortunate tourists can, so why would I not spend my valuable time doing something I truly enjoy?Those people did not have the odds on their side that weekend. But it could just as easily have been me that lost the game of odds—driving my car, crossing the street, playing sports, or even going to school. The reality is that any mundane activity could be my last, so although kayaking and rock climbing may put me in marginally more danger than sitting behind a desk, I am willing to accept those odds because I would rather use my breath for something exhilarating than something boring.

I can name my own odds that I will eat a whole jalapeño, but I am constantly at the mercy of certain odds that I just can’t control. When I see these odds come into play in such jarring proximity to my own life, the other odds games I play seem so insignificant.

What are the odds I’ll eat that pepper? What are the odds I’ll spend too much money before graduate school? What are the odds I’ll find a place to live?

All of a sudden these things don’t matter so much. Why not just eat the pepper anyway? Just go kayaking anyway? Go climbing anyway? I should take my chances while I still have them, because there’s no telling how many more chances I will get.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Gratitude Travel Writing competition and tell your story.

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Life after Actun Tunichil Muknal, Belize

As someone who can struggle with motion sickness, a 30 minute bus ride along a muddy and bumpy road seemed like a nightmare at the start of my adventure into the jungles of Belize. In a few short hours on our return trip, that ride would seem like a pleasure cruise.

It’s amazing what a little Dramamine and some perspective can do for an outlook on life.

The bus ride was just the first of many challenges on a group trip to Actun Tunichil Muknal.  A local Belizean who ran a tour company sold my husband on what was billed as an adventure of a lifetime. It’s a sales pitch perfected over time: “It’s an easy walk!” the promised.  Sure, you’ll walk through some water, but it’s always warm: “so warm!”

They lied.

The first part of our cave adventure doesn’t start at the parking lot.  These elements are left off the tour guide’s sales pitch.  First, there are the three river crossings in murky water and a healthy hike along a trail where large cats could be lurking behind the next corner. Finally, we arrive at camp only to be told the adventure is NOW beginning.

So, we leave behind everything we’ve carried along this early part of the adventure, and walk straight into the mouth of a pitch-black cave with a river running through it.

We wear miners lights on our helmets help us see, as we walk through yet another river – the same river we crossed three times earlier. The water comes up to our waists.  Sometimes, it reached our shoulders. We squeeze through narrow openings left behind by fallen boulders and balance in soaking wet shoes on loose rocks beneath our feet.

I slip.  My knee hits a rock and I bleed.  But I’m stuck in a cave miles from daylight.  So, I keep going.

After what feels like hours, we reach a rock wall.  We climb.  From there, we’re told to take off our shoes. I’m really in no place to argue, seeing that the guide who makes the request is really my only lifeline to ever seeing blue sky again. At least we’re out of the river.

From there we walk in our wet socks towards a small opening.  We squeeze through and enter a huge cave several dozen feet tall.  Our guide tells us it’s a sanctuary once used by the Maya. It’s a place they went to hide when danger came their way.  Left behind are signs of life which include a rare clay pot left behind for centuries.  But the main attraction centers on death.

We take one last climb, this time up a creaky ladder, and our tour ends with at the Crystal Maiden.  She’s a fully intact skeleton, whose bones seem to sparkle under the light of our headlamps.  Who she is, no one knows.  Questions on how she got there will likely never be answered.  One thing I do know is the discovery of these bones and they mystery surrounding her death lead thousands of people just like me into a dark, wet cave every year to look on her skeleton and wonder about life, death and everything that comes after.


With another tour group waiting for their chance to take their turn looking at the Maiden, our group leaves this final resting place.  We head back down the rickety ladder, though the cave littered with ancient pots and put on our wet shoes.  It’s back down the rock wall and into the water for the slow walk in the river and along the rocks until finally we see the sun.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Gratitude Travel Writing competition and tell your story.