Juneau, Alaska: A Photo Essay

Nestled along the Gastineau Channel at the base of glaciers and mountains, Juneau is a remote town that can only be reached by boat or plane. Reminiscent of the old mining town it once was, Juneau flourishes in the summer months, but basically shuts down during the winter. Armed with a camera, I spent time exploring Juneau’s unbound beauty.

 

Daily Prompt

 

 

 

 

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U.S.A Traveling Tips and Tricks

 

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I’ve been on the road for a year, but people still don’t understand. I’m often questioned by people in my old life. Why? How? Their looks of confusion and sometimes derision are both amusing and annoying. They can’t seem to understand why or how I could give up my old life to live this way, but that is okay. They don’t need to. My journey is not theirs. However, for those of you who share my interest in living this way, I’d like to share with you a few things, I’ve learned along the way.

  • This is a life not a vacation. 
    • Before deciding to take this step, I read everything I could on the subject of full time travel. Like a sponge, I absorbed information and advice from all directions. It was one of these articles, in particular, that resonated with me. It was about a powerful executive married couple who gave up their stationary lives to travel the world. However, in less than a year, they were broke and working ‘menial’ jobs, so they could eat and have a place to sleep at night. Instead of living within their means, they blew through their money on extravagant activities, four star hotels, and elaborate meals. Bemoaning their new lives, they warned people in the article not to do what they did. No, they weren’t warning people not to blow through their money as if there’s no tomorrow, they were warning people not to become full time travelers. This couple’s irresponsibility served me well. I continuously remind myself this is my life, not a vacation. It is important to budget accordingly. It also made me question myself on my dedication to do what was necessary to live this life. Would I be willing to stop traveling if needed to re enter the workforce, and take on ‘menial’ jobs (as they put it) to build up my travel fund if needed? The answer came only too easily. Unequivocally “YES.” There is no shame in a hard honest day’s work. I’ve done it before, and I’d gladly do it again to be able to be a full time traveler.
  • Cutting costs from the very beginning, we did everything we could to eliminate extravagant monthly bills that would prevent us from traveling.
    • Shopping around, we found a second-hand RV within our means. Paying cash for it up front, we bought it outright. Working together, we invested hard work and sweat equity into it to making it a comfortable, accommodating home that is distinctly ours. By doing this, we were able to increase the value of our RV while saving ourselves from having costly monthly payments.
    • Debt can be destructive to freedom. We avoid credit cards. If we can’t afford to pay cash for what we need, we simply do without.
  • We rarely eat out. Cooking at home is economical, healthier, and simply tastes better.
  • We avoid buying snacks or drinks from convenience stores when filling up our vehicle with diesel. It is an expensive convenience, we do without.
  • We are a family of five which can become expensive very quickly when traveling and sightseeing.
    • Fortunately, the United States has a wealth of free and low cost fun, entertaining, and educational attractions and activities. Doing my homework ahead of time, I google each state we travel in, and notate what is available.
    • I keep my eyes peeled for discounts, coupons, and offers that may make sightseeing more affordable and accessible.
      • The America the Beautiful: National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass is one such amazing deal. For a low yearly cost, this pass provides entrance or access to more than two thousand Federal Recreation Parks and Sites through out the United States. It is definitely a great deal, and has saved my family a ton of money.  Find a Federal Park
    • Get off the beaten path. I love big cities, but small towns have their own distinct charm. Explore what is out there.
    • For those attractions that may be more expensive, we simply do as other families do. We save until we have the money to go. Disneyworld may be the happiest place on Earth, but it is definitely not the most affordable.
  • Campgrounds and RV parks are often spendy. Boondocking is a great way to combat this expense.
    • Wal-Mart’s, Home Depot, and Lowes are usually pretty accommodating if you park at the far end of their parking lots. However, I always call and speak with a manager to receive permission beforehand. There are some cities whose ordinances forbid boondocking.
    • Free Campsite Interactive Map is another wonderful tool, I frequently use. This interactive map is a great way to locate various free and low cost campsites in any area you happen to be in. Providing reviews and coordinates, this map is easy to use.
  • Always be safe. 
    • Trust your instincts. image
    • Do NOT catalog where you’ve been on a map you adhere to the side of your RV. This is a dangerous practice. By doing this you are notifying everyone that you are a full time traveler who has everything you own in your RV (electronics, jewelry, and personal documents). While it is fun to document and record your adventures, just keep it to the inside of your RV.
    • Invest in a weather radio. These radios will alert you to storms along the way that you may not be aware of. There is nothing worse than driving into something you could easily have avoided.
    • Joining AAA is a travel service that is well worth the money. If you have a breakdown on the road, help is only a phone call away.
  • Be friendly and meet the locals. They often know about the best places to go, to shop, and to eat (when you decide to splurge).

I’ve only been on the road for a year, but I can’t imagine going back to my old life. Why would I? This is the life, literally. I may have had a large home with four bedrooms, two and a half bath, but I was never there to enjoy any of it. 70, 80, 100 hour work weeks were the norm. I saw my family in passing on my way to work or my way to bed. Now, I live simply but the rewards are far greater.

 

 

 

A Small Town Festival

watermelonI’m a collector – a collector of experiences, not possessions. For me, there is nothing better. As a traveler, I’m always looking for opportunities to add to my collection. In every small town, big city, and state we visit, I keep my eyes peeled for anything that promises to be interesting: events, museums, workshops, parks, exhibits, fairs, trails, galleries, festivals, beaches, and the like.

You never know when opportunity will present itself, but you must always be ready. Recently, I had such an opportunity.

On a quiet Saturday morning, we were headed to the store to restock our groceries when we came across a festival. No wonder the small town was so quiet, everyone in town seemed to be here. There is no time like the present to seize the day. Groceries were quickly forgotten as we pulled into a designated parking lot. Setting off to enjoy the local festivities we were presented with a question – How much watermelon can you eat? You can test your stomach’s holding capacity for the pink meat of this sweet fruit at the Watermelon Festival in Chiefland, Florida. Held annually on the first Saturday in June, this small town festival has something for everyone.

Festival goers can try their skill at the Watermelon Seed Spitting Contest, watch the floats in the Watermelon Parade, and enjoy intelligent, beautiful, young women square off against one another in hopes to win a scholarship at the Watermelon Pageant.

Children race from activity to activity. Some gravitate towards the giant wading pool with inflatable ride-on toys. Splashing about, they enjoy the cool water against the stifling heat. Others forego the water to jump on the bounce house.

Artists and craftsmen lay out their wares trying to entice customers into shelling out their hard-earned cash for items they just can’t resist.

If you’re in the mood for something a little more substantial than watermelon, you’re in luck. Food vendors are prepared to offer you the finest foods…gator, gyros, cracklins, snow cones, kettle corn, sandwiches, sausages, lemonades, and so much more.

How much watermelon can you eat? It is a question, anyone can easily answer at Chiefland’s Watermelon Festival.

However, it is a question I could’ve answered even if I hadn’t attended this event. None. I don’t actually like watermelon. Weird, I know. There is just something about the fruit, I’ve never cared for. My family all adore watermelon, and have never been able to understand my distaste for it. Nevertheless, I had fun adding the 62nd annual Watermelon Festival to my collection of experiences.

Watermelon Festival Information

 

 

Chicago

Bumper to bumper traffic mixed with suffocating heat is making for an angry commute. Pulling onto the off ramp, I remove myself from the fray and decide to spend the afternoon exploring. My detour takes me to downtown Chicago.

Driving along the city streets, I wonder where I should begin. At a glance, I find old and new merged together. A city of contradictions, Chicago is distinctly unique. It is a city with rough edges that are slowly being smoothed away.

Old charm mingles with modernization. Lovely greystone homes line the streets of old neighborhoods creating an idyllic picture. Street art and graffiti adorn buildings and signs. The L’ glides along the tracks quickly carrying people to various neighborhoods through out the city. Shopper’s with discerning taste stroll along the Magnificent Mile on Michigan Avenue exercising their debit and credit cards. Stunning cutting-edge architectural glass and steel buildings highlight the river front. Old plastic pop bottles, discarded papers, and plastic wrappers liter street corners and sidewalks. Artistic monuments stand in tribute to the city’s culture. Revitalization signs promise to breathe life back into old neighborhoods.

Wandering the city streets, we worked up quite an appetite. Deciding to splurge, we stopped at Home Slice on Webster Avenue to indulge in some of Chicago’s famous pizza. We had always heard there was nothing quite like Chicago pizza, so we were excited to try it. The inviting patio tables and chairs lured us into dining outside. Sitting down, we were immediately greeted by a friendly server who saw to our needs and made some excellent suggestions. Enjoying a relaxing lunch, we talked, laughed, and people watched while we refueled our bodies on thick slices of pizza, savory garlic bread, and spicy stuffed jalapenos. We ate until we couldn’t eat anymore. The food was exemplary. Everyone was right, there is nothing like Chicago pizza.

As day began to give way to the evening hours, we made our way to the interstate. It is time for us to be moving on. Chicago wasn’t a planned stop, but it was a lovely detour. All of us agree, we can’t wait until we are able to visit again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Road Trip Through Childhood

route_66My love for travel was instilled in me at an early age. Vacations and weekends free from work inevitably meant a road trip of one kind or another.

My mom would pack and organize the car to keep us kids comfortable, entertained, and separated. Separation was key to any successful road trip. Only a year and a half apart in age, my sister and I would often end up fighting like animals. On our own, we were both quite civil and well behaved. It was only when we were together that things had a tendency to turn ugly. To preserve everyone’s sanity, separation was mandatory. Neither of us dared cross the imaginary middle line between our two sides. Crossing it always meant trouble that wouldn’t end well for either of us.

To avoid the chaos of traffic, we’d set off on our road trips in the late evening hours and drive late into the night. Happily tucked away into my side of the backseat, I would cuddle down with my pale pink pig pillow, soft lap blanket, and my backpack filled with books and activities while my sister was secure on her side of the car with her round grey hippo pillow, her own soft lap blanket, and respective backpack filled with books and activities. Traveling this way never failed to lull me and my sister to sleep. To this day, I cannot ride in the back of a car without nodding off.

pink pigOur road trips led to all kinds of adventures, both big and small. The memories come one after another.

Riding the cable cars in San Francisco, I stood outside a shop in China Town staring in horror at the ducks hanging in the window until my mom insisted I go in to see all the things the shop had to offer. If memory serves, we bought spices from that small shop.

Camping deep in the mountains, we are delighted to find a small creek close to our campsite. My sister spend those few days wading and playing in the creek.

The storm was one for the record books. Creeping through snow and ice, we were cautiously making our way through it when we were stopped short by a man flagging cars down. My dad stopped, assuming the man had been in a wreck and needed help. As it turned out, the man had narrowly missed the seventy car pile up on the road ahead of us. He was flagging down cars to warn them, so no one else would get hurt. For the next hour or so, my dad and that man flagged down other unsuspecting cars until emergency personnel arrived.

Standing in what seemed to be a mile long line to ride the Matterhorn at Disneyland, my dad and I were both visibly dragging our feet. We both hated high rides while my sister and mom loved them. For some unknown reason, riding this particular ride was deemed a family affair. As we drew closer and closer to the front of the line, my dad and I grumbled about plummeting to our death. Almost to the front of the line, my mom either felt sorry for us or had enough of our grumbling and told us we didn’t have to go on the ride if we didn’t want to. Looking at me, my dad asked me if I’d like to get out of line. Instead of jumping at the chance to free myself from this horrendous experience, I was filled with righteous indignation. We had waited nearly an hour and a half to go on this ride, and that was exactly what I was going to do. As I was hurtling through the dark caverns at a thousand miles a minute screaming for dear life, my regret was swift and unrelenting.

Traveling along highways and back roads, we’d often stop at little road side stands seeing what treasures they had to offer. Fresh fruits, vegetables, ice cream, and curios at these little places always held my fascination.

Sitting cross legged on the floor of a longhouse, we watched in awe and delight as a Native American tribe danced.

Flinstones2Piling out of the hot sticky car, I lift my face to the sky and gratefully take in the fresh air. We’ve finally arrived. We are in South Dakota. We’ve come to visit my grandparents, but this trip also means we get to see Mount Rushmore and Flintstone Land. I think I was most excited about Flintstone Land.

There is something distinctly special about road trips. Cramming everyone into the car and hitting the open road is liberating. It allows you to connect in a way that cannot be done when work, school, and the outside world are continually knocking at your door. Some of the best childhood memories I have are when we  were road tripping across the United States.