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Saturday, January 21, 2017

Let's Go Outside

Okay, so with winter seemingly never ending here in Portland. We're on snow day #6 off work and school, due to a foot of snow that won't leave and roads covered in 2-3 inches of ice. Today we're getting freezing rain and maybe even more snow, so we're all getting a little stir crazy and are trying to find out if there's something like a sun dance we can do to summon some rays. Even I'm starting to think that hiking when the weather is nicer sounds like a good plan, and I'm not really that outdoorsy.

Glacier National Park

The upside is that we're staying warm, I can watch the birds picking through the snow and the seeds and other goodies I put out to help them while the ground is frozen, I'm getting more work done at home than normal, and we're working our way through our DVR and Netflix lists at a more rapid pace than usual. 

So, in preparation for the warmer temps, or for those of you who don't care how cold it is or how much snow is on the ground, let's talk about how you can get out and explore your national parks this year for absolutely free. Each year, the U.S. National Park Services open their gates to everyone and waive the daily entry fee to make getting outside cheaper and more fun.

Glacier National Park

If you're an avid outdoors lover, then you may already have an annual pass, because you want to explore all the things. If you're like me, you only go to the parks when you're on a road trip, so you can't see the value of spending almost $10 (for the record, it's just $80) for the year when you only spend maybe 3 days at a National Park. For you, save some money and plan your trips around these free days. The parks maybe be more crowded, but that can be part of the fun. Unfortunately, more people may mean fewer glimpses of wildlife, but it really depends on the park. 

Pack your cooler with some delicious foods, a blanket, and throw some clothes in an overnight bag if you plan to make a getaway of it (because, sometimes you aren't that close to a National Park), because getting outside just got easier:

Glacier National Park

Monday, January 16 (Martin Luther King Jr. Day) - I know you missed it this year, but you can plan for next year now!
Monday, February 20 (Presidents Day)
Saturday and Sunday, April 15-16 and 22-23 (Weekends of National Park Week)
Friday, August 25 (National Park Service Birthday)
Saturday, September 30 (National Public Lands Day)
Saturday and Sunday, November 11-12 (Veterans Day Weekend)

Glacier National Park

Save some money on your pass

Did you know that seniors (age 62 and over) can buy a lifetime pass to the parks for just $10? Now that's a fantastic deal! Want to get a cheaper pass? Well, you might be able to. U.S. Military and permanently disabled citizens can get an annual pass for free. If you have a child in the fourth grade, with the Every Kid in a Park initiative, your whole family is eligible for a free pass. 

Split the pass with a friend and add $40 to your pass cost. Each pass can have two people as owner on it (and they don't need to be related), so if you have a a friend or family member who also wants to go to the parks, but doesn't necessarily want to spend full price, add both  your names to the annual pass and split the cost. You'll each pay just $60 that way and will only have to work out who gets it when (or go together). This is great for families, because the NPS has a lot of offer for kids, not least of which is the Junior Ranger program, where kids engage in different educational activities at each park and receive a stamp in their parks passports and often a badge for completing each one. 

Bryce Canyon

When to skip a pass

If you only plan on visiting during the above times or you plan to visit the smaller parks that don't charge a fee. For the record, there's almost 300 of them. Here is the list of 120 parks that charge admission that you can get into free on fee free days.

Visit Canada

Canada has National Parks of its own, and they were established before the U.S. NPS. With tons of open spaces, it's a great place to head to get outdoors, plus they also have fee-free days at all 46 parks across the country. This year, this has been extended to every day of the year to celebrate 150 years of independence. Go online to get your free pass now for 2017.

Now that you have some options, all you need to do is plan your trips, find some awesome hiking boots/shoes, charge your camera and get out there. 

What's your favorite national park and why do you love it?

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

5 Ways to Stay Healthy While Traveling

Travel can really take a lot out of you. Between the dry airplane air, the change in climates, different foods and much more exposure to foreign germs, it's almost a miracle if you don't get sick, or at least run down. When I travel, I try hard to offset many of these things with healthier habits than I have at home (which I really should be doing then too).

healthy travel tips

Here are 5 ways I try to stay in shape, stay healthy, and get the most out of my travel experiences:

I don't walk too much at home, but that's because I have places to be and have a car. I also know where things are and have explored a lot of them. On vacation, even when I have a car, I want to see things, so I walk as much as possible. The best way to see a city is by getting out and taking it slow and viewing the place like a local. Get off the main streets and find the hidden gem.

Walking also helps burn those extra calories you've been eating when you go out for practically every meal. At home, most of your meals are probably made at home.

Take the stairs
For added fat-burning and exercise, I take the stairs whenever possible. Of course, there are a lot more when traveling to, sat, Europe. There are stairs in the Metro. There are stairs in all the museums. There are stairs to get to the best viewpoints. It helps that you rarely have options besides to climb them or miss out entirely (unless you are handicapped in a way that means an elevator is a necessity).

Make sure you find some great walking shoes and break them in before leaving home or you could face the saddest or angriest feet ever. Hobbling does not make for fun sightseeing, I assure you.

Skip dessert
I'm the first person who wants to try everything on a menu when I'm out to eat, but even I restrain myself. Between sharing a plate with Eric, or someone else I might be tracing with, and saying no to dessert for a lot of meals, my pants don't get too tight by the time I go back home.

Dessert, while delicious, packs a lot of extra fat, sugar and calories that you don't need. I try to remember that I hardly ever eaten dessert at home, so I shouldn't go hog wild when I'm on vacation. I try to save my sweet tooth for menus that have something very unusual or incredibly hard to pass up. As you know, I often plan days around food options and look for places that other travelers say I shouldn't miss.

Eat veggies
You can't always eat right on vacation, and you'll probably find a lot of fried foods wherever you go, so you'll need to make a concerted effort to get fruits and vegetables in as often as possible.

One way I do this is by purchasing bananas and other fruits to eat in the mornings before I head out. Another way I do it is by ordering a vegetarian or vegan options every once in a while when I'm out. You might want to indulge in a salad or order double veggies instead of a starch. Just make sure you get those good foods in where you can.

The extra antioxidants can keep your immune system in working order and you can avoid getting sick.

Go swim
Eric almost always has a pair of swim trunks in the suitcase. If the weather is warm enough for swimming, he indulged in pool time whenever possible. I'm not much for swimming, but if you are, then this can be a great workout for you. If, like me, you aren't, then maybe a trip to the hotel gym is more in order.

If you don't have these choices or it's too cold, here are 5 exercises you can do in your hotel room:
  1. Step-ups - All you need is a chair or your hard-shell carry-on for these. Do 20-30 step-ups per foot. These help your quads, calves and butt muscles. They also can help your thighs. The higher the step, the more you'll get out of it.
  2. Chair push ups - Again, a chair is all you need for these. Stan in front of or behind a chair and use the back or arms to put your hands on and do push-ups. You can also stand facing away from the chair and put your hands on the seat to lower yourself as far as you can go and then push up to work your shoulders and upper arms.
  3. Jump rope - A jump rope is an easy thing to pack, even if you bring a weighted on like I use. If you have a patio or balcony or are on the ground floor, this works a lot better and won't annoy your neighbors.
  4. Resistance bands - Another easy-to-pack item, you can do core strength exercises and also work your arms and legs in a smallish space.
  5. Lunges - Simple to everywhere, lunges take a minimum of space and can even be done in the hotel hallway if need be.
No matter where you go or what equipment you have or don't have, you can stay healthy, in shape and feel good about yourself when you get home.

Don't forget to drink plenty of water to stay hydrated. I recommend carrying a reusable bottle with you so you can save money and never have an excuse to be without liquids.

What's your favorite way to stay healthy while you travel?
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