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Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Discovering Outdoor Kalispell

My trip to Kalispell last month was chock full of fun activities, including lots of outdoor fun. I enjoyed my short visit and hope to make it back to see more in the future. Let me help you make the decision to add Kalispell, Montana to your travel wish list. In case you worry that the small town doesn't have much to offer, remember that their motto is "Discovery in every direction." They aren't wrong, as there are plenty of things to do within 10 miles of downtown, so you can easily fill your days with a variety of activities and delicious foods.

outdoor activities in Kalispell

Kalispell is surrounded by beautiful landscape and outdoor spaces and we explored just a fraction of them. Head north to Whitefish or south to Bigfork for even more activities, but Glacier is the most popular and just 30 miles away. For somewhere closer and less crowded, put on some walking shoes and pack a picnic to visit Lone Pine State Park. It is one of only two state parks in Kalispell and has a few hiking trails where you can bring your pup. 

Rikka isn't much of a hiker, so she walked along some and then rode in her sling for part. Lone Pine is perfect for those of you who like to get outside, but aren't super outdoorsy, like me. There are short trails and easy uphill hikes to the overlook.

There are a little more than 7 miles of trails, which  vary in length and difficulty. Parking is just $6 per car, which you pay by cash before entering. There's an archery field as well as well as trails for horseback riding and covered tables for enjoying a picnic. We visited in the morning before many people were out and had the park mostly to ourselves.

We parked and headed up to the interpretive/visitor center, which is small, but a great stop. 

Inside you'll find a few activities and exhibits that show how wildlife is affected by people and how we can keep ourselves safe and allow them to not depend on people for survival. They even allowed me to bring Rikka inside on her leash. (You'll also find potty bags and a water dish outside.) We walked around and looked at the exhibits, purchased a few things from their little gift shop (because huckleberries!) and used their clean restroom before taking a map and hiking the short way up to the overlook.

Check out this view! You can see all of the Flathead Valley from the viewpoint and it's perfect for getting great pics of where you've been, where you're going and just seeing how spread out things are.  

That's me on Cappy with Diane from the Convention & Visitor Bureau. Look at that view!

Just 5 miles from downtown, and still in Kalispell, is a wonderful place to go horseback riding. While you can do this in Glacier National Park, it can get quite crowded and touristy. Artemis Acres is an easy drive from town and feels like you're far from the city. The ranch is beautiful and serene, plus doesn't get any WiFi, which means you can really unplug and enjoy your ride. If that sounds awesome to you, you can also stay at their lodge to get away from it all just a short ways away from "civilization". Rates start at just $125/night.

Each ride takes you 6 miles in 2 hours and there are multiple trails, so if you want to go for more than one ride, you have a different experience each time. You can tell the horses are happy and well taken care of as they frolic around in their field. They are trained well, too, so you don't have to give them much direction if you're a newbie and worried about being inexperienced. One follows right behind the other on the trail. You'll get a quick tutorial before you head out though. You'll take a quick rest at the top (halfway through) to give the horses a break and you time to take photos of the surrounding area and the magnificent view of the Valley. There are longer rides you can take as well. 

This cutie is Leroy. He is super friendly and loves his horse friends and runs along on all trail rides, finding exciting things of his own along the way. A two-hour ride runs $65, which is a great price for being able to explore the ranch on a happy horse. Our guides were fantastic and very knowledgeable and really easy to talk to. One came all the way from Florida with Leroy and her two rescue horses for a total change of scenery. The other just started this season and was already happily settled into her job. I didn't get to meet the owner, but I could tell he really cared about his animals and their environment. I'd highly recommend splurging on a visit to Artemis Acres. Everything else in Kalispell is super affordable to make up for it.

So, I'm going to talk more about Glacier National Park in another post, but I wanted to show you a few pictures of what you can expect. If you already have a National Parks Pass, you won't need to pay admission, but if you don't, you can expect to shell out $30 at the gate for a 7-day pass, because they don't offer daily passes. Luckily, there's a ton to do there. Here I am on the pier next to the boat dock. In the summer, this place is really hopping, with swimmers, boaters, kayakers and more. Also, look at those mountains! Gorgeous.

There is no shortage of rivers and streams in Glacier and the park has endless hiking opportunities. If you aren't into hiking, you can take a tour in your car as well as taking a Red Bus tour, which I will include in my other post. Unfortunately, there was flooding and a landslide right before my trip, so the Going To The Sun Road was mostly closed, but when it's not, you can enjoy a great drive with incomparable views. Driving the road is the best way to go with your dog, as they are only allowed in certain parts of the park due to wild animals. 

Around every corner is something new and interesting, including this one-lane road and bridge that makes you feel like you're the only one in the park.

Just two blocks from our hotel was Depot Park. This is where you'll find the Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Center. It's also pet-friendly and has lots of places to sit. In the summer, they hold free concerts at the gazebo: On Tuesdays at 7pm and on Wednesdays at lunchtime (11:30am). In the future there may be more activities here as well. 

I love the sculpture here and that there are plenty of trees that you can enjoy both the sunny spots and the shade. We spent quite a bit of time here, since it was so close and I could run around with the dog. There are also public restrooms on site (that little building on the left), though I didn't go in to investigate. Another plus: there are tons of trash cans everywhere, so there's no excuse to leave your garbage lying around.

A short drive from Kalispell finds you at Somers Bay. The town of Somers is tiny, but they have just about everything you could need, including the Somers Cafe, which I'm told is quite good. I'll have to check it out next time I'm there, since I didn't seem to have any free breakfasts or lunches. In the summer, you can watch sailboat races and dragonboat races along the shores of Somers Bay, but you can also take your boat out, go swimming or engage in other water activities as well.

Set aside your Tuesday and Friday evenings to watch sailboats (slowly) race across the bay. Races start at dusk and it's a perfect excuse to get outside and relax with a bottle of wine and al fresco dinner. September brings the Dragon Boat Festival to Lakeside, which may actually draw more boaters than the races we have here in Portland for Rose Festival. There's outdoor food stalls and more, so you can make a day of cheering for your favorite teams. 

This is just a small selection of the things that Kalispell (and the surrounding valley) has to offer for outdoor adventurers. Summer is a great time to visit to take advantage of great weather and the visitor season, but winter is also a perfect time to visit, with ski season and super affordable lift tickets at Blacktail Mountail Ski Area. Just $40 all day for adults or free if you can prove it's your birthday! 

There really is Discovery in every direction, so whether you stay two days or two weeks, you're sure to have a jam-packed visit...or really relaxing, depending on the sort of vacation you're looking for. What outdoor activity sounds the best to you?

Disclosure: My visit to Kalispell was sponsored by the Kalispell Convention and Visitor Bureau, but all opinions are 100% my own.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Traveling in the Off Season

Traveling in the off season can save you a lot of money. Each destination has different high seasons and it's not always summertime, like it is here in America, and even here some places differ. With lower hotel rates and airfare comes smaller crowds and shorter lines. Plan your vacation around the more affordable times to visit with the help of this fun infographic.

off season travel
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Where will your next vacation be?

Friday, June 24, 2016

Super Useful Travel Posts

Happy Friday, Everybody! It's been a while since we've had a post round-up, so I decided today was a good day to run a super useful post, with a bunch of travel contests at the end. I hope you're having a fantastic week, and if you've come across anything fun and travel-related, then please enlighten us with a link back in the comments so we can all enjoy!

super useful travel posts

So, even though "it's a free country", you can't just wear whatever you want everywhere you go. If you remember my post about not showing up to the airport in your pajamas (come on people!), this one goes a bit further, as this burlesque dancer thought wearing tiny shorts on her flight was also a good look. Jetblue disagreed.

National Parks are turning 100 this year and this summer is going to be really busy. If you can't hit up your local park or others on your travels this year, you can virtually visit Alaska's Katmai National Park by checking out their bear cam online, as well as some others, like Glacier and Yellowstone.

So, we probably all agree about this by now, but some people just have no common sense. More people are killed every year because they think they must capture every moment on film. You know, pics or it didn't happen. I love to take photos, but sometimes you just need to put your camera (or phone) away and either just enjoy the moment or get the hell out of there. Smarter Travel gives you 10 places not to take selfies.

I know most people aren't like me and don't research every airport they'll be going through. I like to know what I can do there if I get delayed, but also what food they have to offer, because generally you have enough time to grab a meal. You know how I like to try new places, but I also like to sty on a schedule when I travel, so eating meals at meal time are important to me. Eater made a list of what to eat at 30 airports, so you can make a note for your next trip.

So, I know that I can find something fun in every city I visit, even if it's tiny. You just have to look and also ask people. For those of you looking to take a staycation this summer, because maybe you're waiting to take your next trip when it's cheaper to do so, then you'll need some ideas. Of course, some cities are better for staying home than others. WalletHub has rounded up the best and worst cities for staycations this year.

If you're not into taking a staycation this year, that's okay, because there's plenty of affordable places to travel, even when travel is really expensive. BudgetTravel has put together a list of 29 Affordable Trips to Take This Summer. You might also be interested in a unique trip to Utah. Both the Heber Valley and the city of Logan are fantastic for those on a budget, family travelers, solo travelers, adventure travelers, history buffs. You name it, Utah has something. Plus, if you're on the West Coast, they can easily be driven to, so you save on airfare!

I'm a big lover of Disney and if I ever got sick and missed out on part of my trip, I'd be bummed. Not just because of a lost day at the parks, but tickets are expensive. This lady learned that if your tickets are old enough, you can totally get around today's rules. Lucky her!

Most Americans don't use all their vacation time, but there are some people like me who do (or I did when I had an 8-5 gig) and wish they had more time, so they could get the most R & R they can. Studies have shown that vacations are good for us and more travel makes us more productive at work, because (a) you have something to look forward to and (b) you have recharged your batteries for a week or two and are ready to get back to the daily grind. Wish you had more time away? Here are some tips on how to negotiate it with your boss.

And now for the contests!

Win a 3-night trip to Waikiki.

Enter to win an escape to The Hamptons

Want a fun-filled, adventurous escape to Boise, Idaho? Enter now!

Win a culinary tour of the rustic Amalfi Coast in Italy.

And there you go! I hope you have a fantastic weekend and something in this post helped you out in some way. Let me know what was your favorite or what you hated or what you found on the internet lately.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

5 Items You Pack But Probably Shouldn’t

I used to pack a bunch of things when I traveled. Over the years, I've learned what is a must and what should stay home in order to get the most use out of it and allow me to carry-on my belongings and save baggage fees. Every time I travel, I get better and better at packing, especially when returning to places that I've been several times. Of course, I still make mistakes – like when I decided I didn't want to take a rain jacket to Orlando – but that's me being human. I'm willing to continue to learn. Fortunately, I've learned these five important lessons when traveling and it makes me a more efficient packer/traveler.
I’ll admit it. I live in Oregon, where it rains…a lot. I’m used to it and I couldn’t even tell you where any of the umbrellas I own are located. I either just walk around in it or put on my rain jacket, because if I didn’t, I’d never really go anywhere for a majority of the year. Umbrellas are impractical and take up space in my travel bag and can only be used in one situation. If it’s windy when it rains, they’re useless.

What to pack instead: Get a good, lightweight, packable rain jacket with hood. This will free up your hands, keep you drier and won’t poke out people’s eyes if you’re in a crowded area (like the theme park). If you’re traveling somewhere warm, it can also be thrown on when inside an air conditioned space or a cold snap happens. Multi-purpose.

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High Heels (impractical shoes)
If I can’t walk all day in a pair of shoes without wanting to cut off my feet, then they aren’t coming with me in my bag, with the exception of flip flops that I can wear to the pool, down to the lobby or to the grocery store. Uncomfortable shoes or high heels rarely get worn on vacation, because after walking all day, your feet already hurt and squeezing your feet into a pair of stilettos sounds like more torture than usual.

What to pack instead: A nice pair of sandals or ballet flats that work with your shorts, pants and dresses and have good support, so you can wear them out sightseeing and then to a nice dinner in the evening.

1 outfit per day
Okay, this is a complete no-no for those packing light to avoid checking a bag. You don’t need 14 tops and 14 bottoms and 9 pairs of shoes. You just don’t.

What to pack instead: Be creative and pick a color scheme for your clothing, so that you can mix and match. All your tops should be able to go with all your bottoms and give you the maximum use of everything. I like to go with this equation: 5 tops + 3 bottoms = 15 unique outfits. Throw a dress into the mix and your travel outfit (that one you wore on the plane) and make your travel wardrobe even larger. Maybe you’ll have to do a little laundry. Suck it up.
All your makeup
Let’s face it. You probably have a crapload of cosmetics in your bathroom and you probably use only 5-10% of what you have on any given day. Leave that giant makeup bag at home and go a little more natural.

What to pack instead: Smaller sizes, the bare necessities and multi-use products. If you missed my last post on your summer beauty bag, check it out for more help on this.
Okay, I’m not telling you not to read, but books and magazines are bulky and take up valuable space you need for more important things, like pants.
What to pack instead: Take a magazine (or two) and load up your phone or tablet with your favorite books and mags. I will take a magazine just for the parts of my flight where I can’t have my electronics on, but I tend to read or play a game on my tablet or play a game with my husband the rest of the flight. My tablet packs a ton in a small package and saves me a lot of room. Just remember your backup battery.

I stick by all these tips for every trip I take, just so I don’t overpack and can pack as light as possible. Being able to carry all my own baggage is key. If you’ve ever tried to drag everything you own up three flights of stairs after a 12-hour – or even a 2-hour – flight, then you know the pain of packing more than you need.

What items do you make sure to leave at home and what do you pack instead?

Saturday, June 18, 2016

5 Ways to Put Together Your Travel Beauty Bag

With summer here, your beauty bag should majorly feature SPF, beyond that you don’t need to bring everything in your beauty drawer “just in case”. In my experience, I’m even less concerned about putting on a full face of makeup when I’m traveling. I want to be low maintenance while still looking good. If you typically use the same few items at home, don’t take a bunch of extra items that will just take up room in your bag, because chances are that you won’t use them when on vacation either.

travel beauty bag

Here’s how to put together your Travel Beauty Bag that helps you minimize, still look great and pack light (so you don’t have to pay to check a bag):

Hang onto those samples
When I purchase from Sephora or anywhere else, I look for samples that I will use in the future. I have a good collection of trial size items that I can rotate into my travel bag, including powder, mascara and eye shadow. I buy smaller sizes of my foundation, or go for a powder foundation and everything else is tiny and lasts me several vacations before I need to toss and replenish. If you’re a member of ebates, you can always find great promo codes for deluxe size samples of Sephora buys.

Decant or put into a zip-top bag
I don’t need to take a full-size product with me anywhere. I’m not moving to my destination. I decant my moisturizer, face scrub and other items I only use small amounts of into smaller containers and bring toner or facial exfoliating pads in a zip top bag to eliminate bulky packaging and avoid putting such things in my 3-1-1 bag. If you have a favorite toner, soak some cotton pads in them, toss them in a zip-top bag, squish the air out and put directly in your toiletry bag. This way it won’t spill out in your 3-1-1 and also doesn’t need to be put in that bag at all.

Do you actually need those 47 products you almost never use at home? I don’t. I barely even use eyeliner when I’m at home, so I tend to only pack the basics: moisturizer, foundation, powder, blush, mascara and a tiny eyeshadow quad (which I may not use either). I’d rather use my toiletry space for things that I do use, like hair products to keep my hair from getting all frizzy or dry.

Speaking of, I have invested in a great solid shampoo and conditioner, so I don’t have to waste space on liquids when I don’t have to. These work just as good as my at-home products, and no chance of spillage. If I feel like my hair needs a little extra help, then I will bring a small, extra-moisturizing liquid conditioner instead. Usually, I just pack a tiny bottle of hair oil, which you can find just about anywhere, that will de-frizz whenever I need it.

Size down
That full-size shampoo that lasts you 6+ months really belongs at home. I mean, you’re going to be gone 2 weeks, so 3oz is likely to be more than you actually need, even if two of you are sharing it. Same goes for moisturizer and other products. You can purchase smaller containers pretty much anywhere.

I take this same stance on hair appliances. I have a travel-size flat-iron that will actually fit in my small toiletry bag. The one I take most often has a rounded edge, so it can be used as a curling iron, too. Don’t waste all the room in your carry-on with a full-size iron, hair dryer or other item. You can find “mini” ones that work just as well, or better, that you can keep in your bag.

I typically travel with that and a folding brush, too. It makes my mornings really easy, because I don’t have to juggle a bunch of things and they don’t take up the entire bathroom sink…if there’s even counter space for them in the first place.

Bring Multi-use products
This is a must. I make sure I bring items that have SPF in them, so I don’t have to bring a separate facial sunscreen. I also have a great lip and cheek stain. And I swear by philosophy bath gel, which I use as shower gel and in place of shave cream. It can also work as a shampoo or bubble bath if needed, plus they all smell heavenly.

Packing light can actually help you pare down at home, because you see what you really use and what you don’t. It also allows you to be a little creative, get out of the room more quickly and care more about your actual vacation than looking like a beauty queen. You can still look great with fewer products, and you’ll be able to pick up your travel bag. Think of all the things you can spend baggage fees on instead. That’s an extra $25+ – each way – in your pocket.

How do you pare down and/or simplify your beauty bag? {Stay tuned for more packing tips.}

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

48 Hours of Fun on a Budget in Logan, Utah

In this blog series I show you how easy it is to budget travel anywhere and I also give you a quick overview of a new city each time in a brief 48-hour itinerary.

You may not have heard of Logan, Utah, because it’s not as popular as other cities or Utah just isn’t on your radar for vacation destinations, but it’s one to definitely consider. It has beautiful landscape and is full of things to do for everyone in the family. Whether you’re traveling as a couple, a group, a family or on your own, you definitely won’t be bored. Maybe you only have a weekend to spare. Here’s how I would suggest spending two days in Logan.

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Day 1
Let’s assume you got in last night, so you can get up and grab a delicious organic, fair-trade coffee drink and breakfast made with fresh and seasonal ingredients at Caffe Ibis. Expect to spend around $30 for two for breakfast.

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Once you’re fortified for the morning, visit Willow Park Zoo. This is a hidden gem that won’t take a majority of the day to explore. There are just over a dozen mammals, 10 reptiles/amphibians and many bird species. The zoo has a park-like atmosphere and has a lot of shady areas. It’s great for those with children or those that just love animals. Admission is just $3 per person ($2 for children 3-11).

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Take some time to wander the historic downtown area of Logan and take in the turn-of-the century homes and buildings. If you’re into architecture, this is a perfect opportunity to get a lot of great photos of design and features you enjoy. Logan has a fun variety of shops, including vintage, clothing and gifts.

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When hunger strikes in between enjoying the quaint downtown scene and ducking into shops, check out the Bluebird Restaurant for lunch. This local favorite has a little bit of everything in a vintage soda fountain diner that’s been a staple of the community since 1914. You can order anything from a Caesar salad and Reuben sandwich to fresh trout and chicken fried steak. The most expensive thing on the menu is $15, with everything else around $8. Plan to spend $25 per couple.

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Head to the USU Campus and take a self-guided sculpture walking tour. You can download a map and take one of three different routes where you can view a number of the 40+ sculptures done in different styles, from modern to abstract. You can also walk the campus to admire the historical buildings. Walking tours are free.

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Splurge on a fun meal from Kabuki Japanese Restaurant where you can order sushi, udon, yakisoba and other Japanese favorites. You’ll be able to sit and relax while recharging from you day out walking. A meal for 2 will run you in the range of $40 for 2.

Head back to your room to get ready for your day tomorrow or catch a movie at one of the first-run theaters in town and then get a good night’s sleep.

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Day 2
Start the day off with a hearty breakfast from Center Street Grill. Voted “Best Breakfast” in Logan, they offer pancakes, breakfast burritos and a variety of platters that are large enough to split between two. A meal for two can run around $20.

Jump in the car and take the Cache Valley Historic Driving Tour. It runs more than 50 miles and takes you through 28 cities and towns. You can pick up a tour map at the Visitor’s Center, or download one before your trip. You’ll learn the history of the valley and its people. This’ll only cost you gas and whatever you pick up for lunch. We’ll plan for $30 for two.

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Time to grab an early dinner and take in a show. Get a table at The Beehive Grill where you can indulge if you’re a vegetarian or a carnivore. Choose from soups, salads and pastas or opt for a meat-friendly meal like their root beer BBQ chicken or a pub burger. Complement your meal with a beer from Moab Brewery. Now, get a bit more culture by getting tickets to a show, like Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, at the 1923 Ellen Eccles Theatre Center. Dinner will cost you between $30 and $45 for two, while a ticket to a fun performance is quite budget-friendly, starting at around $15 each.

It’ll be late, so you will probably want to head back and pack for your trip home tomorrow. If you do everything on this itinerary, you’re looking at approximately $215 for two people – a little more if you catch that movie on Day 1. You can always make it cheaper by eating more affordably, but I love trying the local faves when I travel.

Logan, Utah is a great year-round destination. These are just some of the things you can do on your visit. Summer is their busy season and they offer tons of hiking, biking and other outdoor activities. You can ski and hit the hot springs in the winter and golf and camp in the warmer months. No matter what kind of traveler you are, you can find plenty to satisfy you in Logan and the Cache Valley. For more ideas, check out Visit Logan.

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