Mount Dora, Florida

adventure of the week, Florida, Travel, United States

A few years ago my baby sister took on the challenge of buying her first home with her fiancé. While staying in Orlando proper would have kept their commute down, they decided they needed a break from their lives in the tourism industry and they selected something further afield. Thus, they selected a cute little suburb of Orlando to create a home in.

Along with their three (yes three) cats they moved to the small and quaint town of Mount Dora, Florida. Known as the highest point in Florida, the township is affectionately understood as a “mountain”, in the closest form of “mountain” Florida can get. (Mind you I may have a slanted view being a Colorado girl, also my sister is a Colorado girl and we can’t understand why she ran away to live in the heat).

Their home was built in 1924 and is full of old-growth trees! The entire city blooms and is covered with a mist of Spanish Moss.

Anyway, mountain or hill, Mount Dora is well known as an artistic and charming community of retirees and hippies, offering up art festivals, weekly farmers markets, and some of the best antiquing in central Florida. It is also considered the most Christmas-filled town in America (I don’t get this because HEAT), and thousands flock to the city to celebrate the holidays, lights, and find some old town American charm.

While they purchased the home in 2017, I was not able to visit this beloved community, until this fall, where I had the pleasure to attend my sister’s wedding and find some fun. I was pleasantly surprised and revived visiting the little city! Here are some of my favorites in the town and why it is worth a stop on your journey through the area.

Where to Eat

WAVE (Sushi) – This was by far my favorite dinner place for the trip. The food was phenomenal, well-priced, and absolutely delicious (landlocked states lack in fresh seafood). The restaurant has gained a following for their Sushi Donuts, Sushi Burritos, and Sushi Burgers all which seem to defy physics. All of which are delicious and enjoyable, if hard to eat! They offered phenomenal options for Gluten Free food, and the staff was considerate, aware, and caring about our needs. I would recommend this place for any visitor to Mount Dora!

HIGHLAND STREET CAFE – This sweet little charmer is about a block away from my sister’s and while it is bordering on the “too cute” spectrum, they offer humble and satisfying eats for a fair price. The staff is super sweet and well versed in food needs. If you need a fast, homemade meal, this is a perfect breakfast and lunch spot.

FESTIVALS

The town is affectionately known as the “Festival City” with events and activities going on almost every week, or at least a couple times a month. While we were there in late October, the city was doing an art festival. At Halloween they had a downtown event for kids and families and soon after they were hosting holiday lightings and events. Check out events on your vacation here.

WALKS

The city is home to a small lighthouse, celebrating Florida’s nautical history. Photo by: Daniel Piraino

Unlike most American towns, Mount Dora is extremely walkable and offers a lot of opportunities for exploration and enjoyment. The downtown is full of small inns and bed and breakfasts which only need to be parked at. Then it’s extremely easy to walk to everything you might need including shopping, dining, nightlife, the main lake of the city, and some trails. If you are brave enough to exercise in the heat, the city is home to many nature trails that are ideal for hiking, biking, and exploring the Florida wilds, click here.

Overall Mount Dora is a great place to stop in Central Florida. If you have an extra day and want to get out of the chaos of Orlando, or if you need an escape to some charm, Mount Dora is sure to please!

Swimming with Manatees- Crystal River, Florida

adventure of the week, Florida, History, outdoors, United States

A few years ago a co-worker informed me that you can swim with wild MANATEES in Florida! As you know, if you follow this blog, I adore animal encounters. Learning manatees are an option meant they went to the top of my list for my Florida vacation 2019.

Photo Courtesy of River Ventures

Manatees are a native species to Florida, and are considered an important part of the ecosystem and culture of the state. Before Europeans arrived the animals were a valuable part to the winter diets of Native populations in the Southeast. Early European explorers to the Southern United States thought they were some type of mermaid, and myths and legends abounded about the “sea cows”. They also hunted some types into extinction.

By the 20th century the animals were threatened due to pollution, boats, and loss of habitat. In 2019 though, the numbers have greatly increased and they are now a vulnerable versus an endangered species. However, the biggest threat to these animals continues to be humans, and impending climate change.

You are so lucky because you live on the west coast of Florida, where there are lots and lots of manatees, … Most of the kids in the country don’t know about manatees and how wonderful they are.

John Lithgow

My intrigue with manatees began when I was a little kid, an animal lover, and I learned about the oddly majestic water mammals. I was extremely concerned for their well-being regarding the damage boats were doing to them, and I have followed their bounce back over the last 20 years or so. Thus, having the chance to get dirty and go visit some of the critters was simply something I could not pass up!

Researching the trip, I learned that some the best viewing areas for manatees is in Crystal River, Florida, about two hours west of Orlando. Located on the gulf coast, the area has the perfect blend of warm waters fed by underground aquifers that the manatees adore. The beasts like things to be 70°F +, and can die in temperatures below 68°F. When the gulf coast gets cold, especially in the winter months, the animals move inland to the naturally warm fresh water.

I ended up selecting the company, River Ventures, as they vocally expressed their concern and work to protect the gentle giants, and they came highly rated in Trip Advisor and other locations. We selected their group tour, flight and early at 7:15 a.m. and waited with anticipation for our adventure.

A youth manatee at Crystal River

At 4:00 a.m. on a Saturday in October my sister and I carb loaded, drank some tea and coffee and drove the pitch black highways of western Florida to Crystal River. We wore swimsuits under our clothes, and made sure we were well equipped with towels and equipment to make the most of a three hour adventure. As a severely nearsighted person I purchased snorkel goggles with adjusted lenses, and as a video nerd I bought a small 4k camera to film our adventure. These investments proved to be priceless!

The company started before our scheduled time and offered coffee, bathrooms, and friendly rescue dog snuggles (a total bonus). Everyone was enthusiastic to participate in the adventure and we chatted happily with other travelers. Before long we were sat in to watch an educational video, discuss wet suits, and change into said suits before a short bus ride took us to the canal boats we were to sail on.

(c) Photo courtesy of River Ventures

It took a while to find some manatees in the canals, we were early for the season, but several manatees had come inland sensing a storm and cooling period on the horizon. The added bonus of sailing the canals for 40 minutes was that we could take in dozens of birds and the sunrise over the canals, offering a charming glimpse into the ecosystem of the area.

While the canals lay on ancient foundations fed by springs the area has been built up with houses and boating enthusiasts. However, with as many people as there are living in the area there was an active group participation in preservation and safety for the animals. Every few docks posted signs about manatees, people named their boats after the animals, and the tour companies that regularly operate in the area work together to tell people about manatee spotting, patterns they have seen, and other important details. This community spirit is vital in the preservation of the region and unique animals that inhabit the area.

(C) Photo by River Ventures

Once we had found a good manatee for visiting, and by good manatee they mean one that is docile and experienced with people, we got our goggles and snorkels ready to go, climbed into the cool waters, and let the wet suits and pool noodles do their jobs to keep us afloat.

Slowly we approached the 40+ year old manatee that we were meant to visit. The big girl was affectionately known as “Red Hot Poker” due to the red algae she grows on her back during certain times of the year. “Red” was not only an elder member of the manatee community, but she was also very pregnant and due to give birth at any time.

I expected the manatees to be large, one can not truly understand their size until you come upon them in murky waters. My experience was one of slowly swimming to the rest of my group with “Red” and coming upon a massive grey beast lurking in the water. For scale, imagine how disconcerting it would be to swim upon a car hood in a small and shallow canal. Her tail fin was in fact the size of a car hood, and showed her decades of swimming, boat encounters, and life in the canals and gulf.

Swimming upon any animal besides a fish is a truly remarkable experience, to visit with such an ancient queen of Florida was truly breathtaking. The guides referred to these beasts as Buddhas due to their calm relationship with their surroundings. The animals simply float, eat, experience, and interact with their world in a second by second manner. They take in the movement and landscape with nerves on their body that sense people and object undetected by their small eyes and poor eyesight. So calm about their existence “Red” simply went about her business grazing on sea grass and coming up for air every few minutes, even with fifteen nosy tourists sticking their nose in her business. “Red” was so calm that she would rise up under myself and other swimmers to get a breath, here she would swim against my hands and was totally unmoved by them being there. Her sense knew I was there all along, but she didn’t care that I touched her in a friendly reminder or hello.

(C) Photo by River Ventures
(C) Photo by River Ventures

Our interaction with “Red” was nothing short of amazing, in the taking breath ones away and wanting to cry it’s so profound, way. I could not believe how peaceful she floated about her day, obviously aware we were curious, and aware that we meant her only peace and friendship. To be face to face with a wild animal that was so calm was a fascinating glimpse into a world beyond our own comprehension and reactions. No wonder early settlers and native cultures were equally intrigued by these majestic animals.

Our time with “Red” came to an end, but before heading back we stopped to view an aquifer, known as Jurassic Spring, that fed the canals with warm water. It was there that a youth manatee swam through our group on the run from a larger group of snorkelers. We called it a day, and followed the directions to return to our boat and back to the tour beginnings.

(C) Photo by River Ventures

In support of the cause we bought our photos, some cute souvenirs, and with giant grins on our face we headed back to Orlando. Ending a truly magical morning in the fresh waters of Crystal River, Florida. With, as my husband calls them, sea potatoes.

Have you swam with manatees? What was your experience like?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Happy Travels!

Over Tourism in Wild Places

adventure of the week, Caribbean, colorado, europe, Florida, United Kingdom, United States, wyoming

While we had started the day as one of maybe three or four boats in the canal system doing tours, numbers quickly increased about an hour and a half into the tour. Not only did the additional boats make the canal more crowded, but larger groups of snorkelers, with what seemed like less instruction, swarmed the area. To add insult to injury, a large group of kayakers also flooded the scene trying to catch a glimpse of the now frightened young manatee.

We were snorkeling with manatees in Crystal River, Florida in what had been established as a nature preserve among the outskirts of the city. We had showed up at 6:30 a.m. so we could truly enjoy the animals at a calm and less-crowded time. We were lucky until 9:00 a.m. when the crowds arrived.

My group was instructed to return to our boat at this time, trying to allow others to see the animal, which we had been lucky enough to encounter, but back on the ship we saw the problems with popularity.

Much like the rest of tourism sites the world over, manatees and other wildlife encounters are having a moment in the limelight, that also means that areas get overused. While our selected tour company has been working for decades to create a more sustainable experience, even pairing with the University of Florida to restore sea grass in the canals due to climate change, they can’t control the populations of tourists that come into the area. While most companies will limit sizes of groups, a lot do not, and that means more money for the company, but not the best situation for the animals or natural areas.

While manatees and their habitats are cared for and many of the springs have been closed in the past, there often isn’t a way to monitor or control the use in an area in times that are open to the public. Even the boat captain informed us that when other canals close to public use more people descend on Crystal River and other areas for things like kayaking, snorkeling, and paddle boarding. This makes already operating tours more crowded, and the animals are more consistently with people.

Florida is not alone in their wild tourism boom. Many National Parks in the United States, State Parks, reserves, and other areas of the world are feeling overwhelmed with tourism. The animals that rely on natural areas are no doubt losing habitat and safe areas to exist. We lose wetlands and hidden areas for animals to escape into. While traveling opens our eyes to so much, are we also killing that which we love?

As humans we have developed around 75-80% of the land in the world, with a large portion of that happening in the last century. Blame overpopulation of humans, and development, and consumerism. All of those things have tipped the scales. In the last 50 years or so travel has began to greatly impact the story as well.

My grandparents would lament trips to Yellowstone in the 1970s and how crowded it was. Today they would be shocked that the 2.5 million visitors they were part of then have swelled to over 4.1 million annually since 2015. On one hand it’s great that more and more people are in love with the wild open and stunning landscapes that lucky people have known and loved since childhood, on the other hand, the droves have a negative impact on the landscape. Sometimes it is misinformed tourists “rescuing” a baby bison, other times it is litter that kills animals who eat it, sometimes the amount of people alone are the problem.

As in so much of what I write, and my actions, I attempt to be mindful of what my actions and words do to those places and people around me. In caring for the natural world I love, I think it’s important to acknowledge my own negative impact in the environment. I love visiting wild places and animals in a way to better appreciate and love the world I live in, but my existence changes the landscape. However, I know there are ways to help.

  • Go in the off or shoulder seasons – I despise heavy crowds at Disney, the beach, and anywhere else. Living next to Rocky Mountain National Park, I avoid the park from May to October because of the swarms of tourists that are in the area. I follow this practice elsewhere, and I make a heavy effort only to visit places when numbers are lower. This decreases the day to day pressure of areas, city or wild, to make it better for every living thing.
  • Research companies and their values – For any animal or wild tour I do a lot of research before selecting a company. This is rooted in concern for animal welfare and concern for the environment. For example, when we went dog sledding, I selected a company that adopts dogs for their tourism work, and then finds home for the dogs when they retire. All the dogs we met were well fed, happy, and totally goofy. However amazing the experience was, their welfare was absolutely vital for our selection. I have also learned bag things about companies and will not visit them again after a visit, such as the Cayman Turtle Farm. Mistakes will happen, learn from them, vow to do better.
  • Talk to experts, read work from experts – Signs in National Parks are there for YOUR safety as much as for the animals. Listen to rangers and experts when they tell you not to leave toothpaste in your tent, or to stay on the trails. There is method to the madness and it keeps things nice for everyone else.
  • Vow to Fight Animal Cruelty – do your research on this, and ask a lot of questions. While it may seem like dolphins are happy with swimming excursions in a pool, the truth is that the industry is soaked in blood (I don’t say that jokingly). Elephants are a prime example, and there is a lot of debate on what are acceptable versus cruel interactions. You won’t be perfect at this, just ask questions, do research, try to understand the complexities.

Happy Travels!

Hiking Tips for Northern Colorado

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We get a lot of tourists to our part of Colorado and for good reason. We’re neighbors with Rocky Mountain National Park, we have some fabulous white water rafting, and we’re enroute to many other natural wonders. That being said, many people hit the Rocky Mountains without much knowledge or understanding of safety and comfort. Here are some tips and tricks to keep you safe, and happy when you hit the woods.

Happy Travel!

Happy Travels!

Take Time to Enjoy Travel

adventure of the week, europe, France, italy, Scotland, Travel, United Kingdom, United States

I see this same scenarios time after time in my job:

My client wants to travel overseas and check off some places on their bucket list. They have one week, three kids, and they want to cram as much culture in their little brains as they possibly can. They want to see ALL of Italy in a week.

My client is taking his dad to Europe, his dad is 80 years old, they want to see ALL of Europe in three weeks.

I research their top places and assemble a schedule that I think is ideal. I find options that match their budget, and activities that all extra time if someone needs a break or a coffee or if a train is late. The savvy travelers agree to my suggestions. The wild ones try to break records, or so it seems, on how many countries they can visit in no time.

While a week, or three weeks seems like a long time, the truth is there will never be seeing ALL of anything in a week, or a month, or a lifetime. It is literally impossible to see everything Rick Steves tells you to, or eat at every Michelin restaurant. It’s just not something that can be done. Besides, the best travel experiences are the unexpected, the moments when nothing was planned, and the stars seem to align. It’s when you actually take time to ENJOY traveling that good things come together.

My favorite meals, or my most loved memories don’t come from the days I planned out hour-by-hour they are finding randomness on this planet we call home. Sometimes it has been a funeral procession or a wedding. Other times it has been making friends with a child or getting lost on a side street. Sometimes it was simply sitting in a train station and people watching while I ate a sandwich. I saw the Queen of England when I just wanted to enjoy being in London in a park. I made friends while hanging out at pubs and hostels. I have always fallen in love with cities I never expected to, or never planned to originally visit.

When one takes time to slow down and breath in their time in a new location, then one REALLY understands the heart and soul of why people travel. It’s a cafe in Paris, or a bakery in Dublin, and taking the time to eat a pastry or drink a cup of coffee. It is a club in Edinburgh or a pub in London that opens up conversation and connection. It’s never when you have museum after museum planned. It’s never when you follow a massive group from sea of people to sea of people. It is always the in between.

As I have seen more and more of the world over ten years I have moved from racing to one place and another, and instead I have craved more of the in between. When I mentally picture a trip back to Paris, I see a mosey instead of a rush. When I mentally picture a visit to China, it’s sitting on the Great Wall and listening to others speak in awe. I imagine crying at finally seeing the Pyramids of Giza and sitting in the sand as I feel the centuries of life in front of and around me. I want the cups of teas and messy foods as much too. I want making friends and photographs of new connections too.

So, dear reader, slow down your plans. See two cities instead of five. See one less museum, and add in a park. Walk everywhere you can so that you can absorb the essence of what is around you. Speak to everyone you can so that you know the people better. Try new foods that would otherwise freak you out. Most importantly, live it all, as much as you can.

Happy Travels!

Planning for the Unknown

adventure of the week, Caribbean, colorado, europe, Florida, France, italy, mexico, Nebraska, new mexico, Scotland, Travel, United Kingdom, United States, wyoming

We live in an exciting time of where we have endless information at our fingertips through social media, news sources, books, and endless other methods. At any given second I can go on my phone or online and see what is happening in many areas of the world. In real time I can explore what is happening at a place I plan on visiting.

This is awesome and equally problematic.

From a travel planner perspective, we use the most up to date, thorough and well-researched information at our disposal. Coming from reliable sources like travel guides, national tourism boards, official websites, rail aggregators and other “first hand” knowledge sources. For the rest of the public, their perspective on a new place comes from a video or social media post, perhaps a news article from a well-reputed magazine. Guess what fails to be in the articles and videos? Thorough information on how to get to, explore, or enjoy a specific region.

No doubt this is not a problem that content creators have to fix alone. Because when well-meaning Conde Nast makes a list of places to see before 2020, they don’t expect people to just cherry pick and randomly show up to Machu Picchu. They do think that people research or look into the complexity of getting to Machu Picchu on train, or foot, or bus. But many don’t, because in our world of instant gratification people don’t always understand that other parts of the world have more layers to their exploration.

Like any good history geek I love researching an answer for myself or my clients. I look at the stories that made up a place. I look at train schedules. I call locals to get information on schedules that I can’t find online. I look at sunset and sunrise times to explain to a client when they can get that perfect view. I check weather patterns to explain what they should pack. I love this research. Granted, I get a little more in the weeds than is necessary, thus, I encourage you to find a balance as you set off into the world.

Here are my tips for researching unknown place.

  1. Go to the library or book store and buy the most recently published guide on the area that you are interested in.
    • Pro-tip: ask the bookstore clerk if an updated version of that guide is coming out BEFORE you travel and ORDER it so that you have the best vetted information for your actual trip.
  2. READ the crap out of that book. Make copies, take pictures with your phone, make notes. Learn everything you can so you know what needs to be done when you’re boots on the ground in Argentina headed to Patagonia.
    • Pro-tip: I use sticky notes in a color coordinated pattern to mark places of interest or areas I am headed to. That way I know where to get information quickly. For example, I will use a large sticky note to mark a region and write the name above the edge of the page. Then I know green stickies are dining in Delhi, pink are activities, etc.
  3. Ask Around to people that travel and see if someone you know has been to such and such place and ask them for recommendations. This might save you time, money, and stress when you know someone else was able to enjoy the same vacation or trip you were planning.
    • Pro-tip: vet all the information you get to make sure it’s accurate and safe. Make a list of suggestions and then read up on what your friend/family suggested.
  4. Read reviews with a grain of salt. Reviews offer TRUE experience feedback, but remember that people are more likely to complain online versus compliment so sometimes complaints will reflect a slanted view, good or bad, of a company.
    • Pro tip: if you see complaints ask yourself if it matters if “the room is small” “if the restroom only had a small shower” or if “the price was insane” because sometimes what bothers someone else will not matter to you.
  5. Utilize hotels and locals by asking questions on dining, activities, weather, and how to enhance your vacation! No one knows better than locals on where to eat, drink, and enjoy your best life.
    • Email your hotel, tour guide, or organizer well in advance so that you have time to get a response and make arrangements to enjoy the best parts of wherever you are going.
  6. Plan for emergencies and extra time. There is nothing more frightening to me than having someone with a schedule that has no extra time built in. Why? Because if one thing goes wrong, like a train delay or a volcanic eruption (true experience from yours truly) you won’t have any time to make up for time lost. I always suggest having at least one back up flight or one back up train between you and when you need to be somewhere. YES you may have more wasted time, but you WILL be less stressed about your travels. Cool bonus: people watching is always enjoyable.
    • Pro-tip: don’t cram everything into one trip. Pick your favorite options and stick to a simpler plan. You will feel less stressed and exhausted, and when you slow down truly magical things happen! There is a reason why EVERY tour company offers some free time on varying days and afternoons because they need extra time for the unplanned and everyone needs to slow down.
  7. Teach yourself the customs, some key phrases, social norms, and other details before you go. Nothing will make you feel more insecure than thinking you have pissed someone off or that you are awkwardly getting through life. Read up on dos and don’ts and mentally note how to behave.
  8. Most importantly, have fun! Laugh off your mistakes, learn as much as you can, and don’t sweat the small stuff. In my experience, things work out and you always have a phenomenal time!

HAPPY TRAVELS!

Winter Fun – Colorado Style

adventure of the week, colorado, Colorado Events, Environment, family, food, outdoors, Scotland, Travel

Colorado is shockingly mild in the winter months. Sure we have days or weeks of bitter cold or 6 feet of snow every year or two, but for the most of the winter, it’s not bad. This means that we get spoiled with having great days to play outside in the winter. While we can’t do all of the fun that summer usually brings, we have the option to play in the snow without being totally frozen. Of course, this can mean some innovation.

Between Dog Sledding and Ice Castles in late January we visited a family friend’s property. This Scottish-born gentleman has a nice spot of land outside of Breckenridge in a town that barely exists on the map (if a few houses along a dirt road count as a town…they do in Colorado anyway).

The landscape of the property hearkens to the dramatic hillscapes of Northern Scotland and while I talked with the owner and his lovely wife I learned that they chose the spot for that very reason. In fact, the snowy blanket that covered the hills was almost identical to that of what I saw in the area surrounding Glencoe four years ago.

Add to the landscape a homemade bar inside of a shed, as anyScottish transplant would have, and a fire pit, some beers, and a fewsnowmobiles and we had a winter party.

Only around 9,000 feet above sea level the weather was manageable, but chilly with a high humidity. Thus, a fire was built, via gasoline and broken pallets. We made beer slushies with the snow, and sippedcool ciders. The snowmobiles were taken into the hills and onto a small frozenlake, that perched delicately on the edge of the property. Avoiding unsettlingthe ice fishers we ran snowmobile circles on one part of the lake, draggingpeople behind on skis, snowboards, sleds, and a precarious pink flamingo tube meant for a more casual swimming pool life.

While the snowmobiling was fun, as any action sport is, thebest part was meeting new people and talking over a drink. It was great to talkwith friends new and old about their memories and new stories. My husband’sfamily is always full of laughter and love and a good tale or joke. While theydon’t always agree on politics and lifestyles, they always agree to love eachother and have a good time, which is something anyone can get behind.  

Sláinte!

Ice Ice Baby – Dillon Ice Castle

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The city of Dillon, Colorado along with a handful of other cities around North America have welcomed the magic and whimsy of #IceCastles the last few years. The company creates elegant magic with their ice castles creating spires, spikes, fountains, slides, and other intriguing icy creations.

With our Dog Sledding trip in late January, it felt naturalto add on an adventure to an ice kingdom! We decided to visit the whimsy atnight where thousands of lights brighten the structure creating a surreallandscape.

1896 Leadville Ice Castle

The castle, much to my surprise, was less of a “brick andmortar” structure of castles in the past, such as the one that used to take up residence in 1896 in Leadville,Colorado.

Yet, through better methods, less work intensive, and moderntechnology the creators of Ice Castles has built a masterpiece of art that resemblesnature versus the palaces of old England. The Dillon castle is made of layersand layers of ice crystals that droop elegantly together to make a spindledfortress. Reminding the viewer of candle wax, the castle is almost haunting inits design, as if some fantasy’s Ice Queen had designed the elements.

Almost gothic, but celebrating natural artistry, the castlesoffer a glimpse into something otherworldly and full of inspiration. Elementsthroughout offer play in the form of slides and selfie spots.  While other details inspire wonder in roomswith fountains and thousands of icicles. Regardless of what you want from thetrip, bundle up, and enjoy yourself!

Make Sure You’ve Got the Docs

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So many times I hear this classic “I didn’t know I needed a Visa”.

Here is the truth, you ALWAYS need a Visa.

“What?” You ask. Because in London they stamped your book and you were free to go as a US citizen. This is totally true, but that stamp, at customs and border, was your visa. No pre-registration and paperwork needed. Just the stamp.

Here is the thing though, sometimes the stamp doesn’t happen. And a big reason is that your passport may not have at least 6 months left on it for you to enter a specific country. Or more depending on where you are headed. In fact, many airlines won’t even let you board the plane if your passport is low on time. Meaning that week in Paris may be thrown away if you’re not prepared. This happens a lot.

Now for countries where you need advance permission, it’s vital to learn who needs what and what is needed. Meaning: countries like China may take longer and need you to buy plane tickets before you travel. Vietnam only takes a few days to process. Some countries only need a form when you land and a $50 fee. Just make sure you find out and find out at least a month or more in advance so you have time to plan.

Where do you find these details? Embassy websites and through the US state department’s website on travel: https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/international-travel/International-Travel-Country-Information-Pages.html

Don’t forget to also check warnings on places you are traveling to. https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/traveladvisories/traveladvisories.html/

Even consider registering with the state department in case you go missing. https://step.state.gov/step/

Other needs? Check with a travel agent or specialist that can at least point you in the right direction. Read a travel guide on your preferred country and ask around to others that have been to such locations.

Most of all, plan ahead, and have fun!

Happy Travels!

Winter Hiking

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I have lived in Colorado and until last week I had never been hiking in winter. At least not in the traditional hiking meaning of the word. Sure I had trekked through knee high snow to feed animals or to clean off our deck. Sure I had braved snow and ice to walk a dog down gravel roads. Yet, I had never been on a hiking trail in winter.

I had not even meant for it to be a winter hike. I had actually planned on everything to be pretty dry and easy going. Maybe home to a few snow patches. Yet as I journeyed into higher elevations at Rocky Mountain National Park, I saw snow, and more snow, and ice, and wind, and snow pack.

It was soon I realized at around 8,000 feet that I would be hiking in the snow if I chose to go. I hesitated some, worried about my clumsy nature on ice. Yet, being stupid, or stubborn, or both, I pushed forward with my hiking plans.

Luckily I had packed extra layers and I was wearing my thick athletic leggings. I had well- treaded hiking shoes, and thick socks. I put on my layers, made sure my pack was good, and off I went.

The trail proved to be somewhat snowy, but easy to trek. The blowing wind and ice from the trees made the journey cold but manageable, and if anything the floating ice crystals added a majestic charm I did not expect.

The wonders of nature hit me, even in the cold, birds hoped between trees, chipmunks scavenged in bushes, and the pine, mud, and earth released their elegant perfumes.

I crunched along uphill for a mile before the Bierstadt Lake trail plateaued by the lake. It was here that the muddy trail turned into a wondrous winter land, where the sun played gleefully through pines and aspens. The wind made the fallen trees, the victims of strong winds, had leaned into each other creaking and echoing a haunting tune.

The lake walk loop offered a two mile winter walk that offered solitude and relaxation, a chance to think, dream, and feel grateful to my home by the mountains.

While I enjoyed just walking, I found that winter hiking was a much needed discovery compared to my summer and fall excursions. It was nice to have the stillness and solitude away from the summer crowds. It was glorious to feel a freedom only deep-seated trails offer. It was refreshing to breath in the scents of an ancient land, untamed and wild.

So, if you are thinking of a winter hike. Do it. Just be smart. Take warm clothes, gloves, hat, jacket, boots. Take water and matches. Take a solar lamp if you can. And bring an emergency device to try to reach help (cell phone). Tell people where you are going. And try to visit a trail that others are likely to be on. If you can, take a buddy, if you can’t, make sure several people know where you are going and when you should be back.

Happy Travels!