Amanda Redden

Tips for Becoming a More Eco-Friendly Traveler

Traveling is something that many of us took for granted prior to the pandemic. But with hope on the horizon as new developments are clearing the path for a greater sense of normalcy, many are eager to get back to the world around them. In the meantime, this break can serve as the perfect opportunity to learn how you can become a better traveler in the future. One of the major focuses for travelers now is becoming more eco-friendly and responsible during their excursions. 

If this is a goal of yours, here are a few helpful tips for becoming a more eco-friendly traveler once you’re ready to set off again!

1. Seek Out Responsible Options for Luggage 

What you carry with you as you travel may not seem like it plays a major role in the environment. However, if you choose to invest in products that leave a hefty carbon footprint, you’re already starting to contribute to a larger issue long before you set foot out the door. 

The good news? Whether you’re in the market for a new set of rolling suitcases or need new carry-on items like secure laptop bags, there are plenty of options. There are many companies producing high-quality products that save energy, reduce carbon emissions, and use recycled materials.

2. Don’t Forget That a Local Trip Can Be Just As Exciting

The most exciting travel destinations are often advertised as being far away from home. While you can still be eco-friendly in another country, traveling shorter distances can reduct your carbon footprint. That being said, there are ways to offset your carbon footprint and still enjoy yourself. 

Rather than planning every trip to a faraway destination, consider alternating trips between places closer to home. Chances are you don’t need to board a plane to find somewhere to go hiking. If you look hard enough, you’ll discover plenty of opportunities and rare finds while staying close to home. Who knows? You may even fall more in love with where you currently reside.

3. Pack Your Bags Mindfully

It can be tempting to pack a bunch of items that you simply won’t need during your travels. In order to avoid this, it’s best to pack your gear mindfully and with intention. This means:

  • Bring reusable items that minimize the amount of waste you’re producing during travel (such as a reusable water bottle)
  • Use sustainable packing tools that help create more space, rather than putting items in plastic bags
  • Pack as light as possible (surprisingly, weight does make a difference on how hard your plane will have to work to get you to your destination)
  • Buy eco-friendly travel goods (clothing, toiletries, batteries, etc.)

Learn how to pack by prioritizing the environment. Once you make the adjustment, it’s just a matter of sticking to those habits and making them work. 

4. Use Eco-Friendly Booking Resources to Find Sustainable Shelter

Unfortunately, eco-friendly travel isn’t the norm quite yet, which means sustainable shelter can be hard to find. Booking sites like bookdifferent.com or lokal can help you find eco-friendly hotels or organize trips that center on sustainability. Companies like FlyGRN help offset carbon emissions by using commissions from ticket sales to plant trees or set up solar panels.

If you’re really looking to get the most out of your travels, there are plenty of resources designed to make you and the environment happy. Set aside some time to do research and seek out the tools that will make sustainable travel more achievable for you. 

Becoming an eco-friendly traveler may sound difficult, but there are actually many resources out there to help you make smarter decisions. When you get ready to venture out into the world, seek advice from established travelers that can help you work around common issues. If you’re ready to do better for the environment, use the tips listed in the guide above!

Flying During COVID-19

Packing your bags and hopping on an airplane are less than ideal during today’s times. In a pre-Covid era, travelers never thought twice about air travel. With vaccinations ramping up and glimpses of a normal, post-Covid reality in sight, the thought of flying is becoming more and more talked about. So what’s the flying experience really like? I recently returned to NYC from SoCal after a 3-week stay, and I’m here to share my personal experience. 

Getting Prepared

When planning a trip by plane, it’s important to understand the journey is from door-to-door, not airport-to-airport. How are you getting to the airport? Do you need a Lyft or Uber? If that’s the case, make sure you and the driver keep a mask on and roll windows down if possible. Upon arriving to the airport, make sure to have the key disinfecting essentials:

  1. Hand Sanitizer: For travelling, you will need a 3-ounce bottle with greater than 60% ethanol or 70% isopropyl alcohol. 
  2. Disinfecting Wipes: Although most airlines have a sanitization crew after each flight deboards, you’ll still want to wipe down your seat, tray table, window area, seat belt, and any other frequently touched surface.
  3. Face Mask: Make sure your mask has two or more layers of washable, breathable fabric. You also must keep your mask on throughout the duration of the flight. Here is the ultimate face mask guide. 
  4. Face Shield (Optional): If you are high risk, you should consider a face shield to protect against large droplets directly getting into your eyes. If you opt for a face shield, you’ll still need to wear a mask. Be cautious though – face shields are more prone to a face full of fog!

Airport Arrival

Once you’ve got the sanitation essentials and arrive at the airport, it’ll be time to go through TSA security and head to your gate. This process stays relatively the same – remove your shoes and jackets, place your belongings on the belt, and head through the scanner. If possible, utilize PreCheck or Clear to avoid the longer security lines. 

The airports themselves are the most intimidating factor of the flying experience. Yes, everyone is supposed to keep their mask on inside, however, some people have to get a snack in before flights. I recommend eating prior to your flight and bringing your own snacks if necessary. It’s also best to find an empty spot in the airport, away from travelers, while you wait to board the plane. 

The Boarding Process

The process of boarding the plane might be a bit different than you’re used to. Instead of boarding by groups, most airlines will now board from the back of the plane to the front. This minimizes the amount of times people walk by you, ultimately creating less exposure. I flew JetBlue, and they fortunately block out middle seats. This is nice, because not only do you have more space in your row, but you also don’t have to worry about sitting inches away from a stranger. Let’s be real – airplane seats are already too close to begin with. 

Ready For Take-off!

Now that you’re settled in your seat, it’s time to enjoy the flight like usual. Not much is different about the flight itself. Watch a movie, read a book, or play that annoyingly addictive game on your phone. Pull out your earbuds and check out that new podcast episode you’ve struggled to find time for, or that new rock album you’ve been wanting to hear. Try to fill your flight time with mindless activities rather than focus too much on the pandemic. It’s comforting to know that airplanes have HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) filters that provide efficient circulation on aircrafts. This means “the air you breathe in flight is much cleaner than the air in restaurants, bars, stores, or your best friend’s living room” (National Geographic). 

The Deboarding Process

Once you land and the flight is officially over, you will go through the basic deboarding process from front-to-back. Be patient, wait in your seat until it’s your turn to leave – it’s hard not to stand immediately, I know – and make your way down the aisle to exit the cabin. Plan to have your ride from the airport to your destination scheduled in advance, whether it’s through a car service or a family member/friend. 

And that’s it! You’ve successfully made it through the flying experience. Remember though, it is best to stay home or travel by car as much as possible. If you must fly, then follow the tips above and make sure to check-in with CDC guidelines for the state you are visiting. Each city/state has varying guidelines, so you must be informed on quarantine rules prior to your trip.

Safe travels!

Are We There Yet? Preparing for Your First Family Hike

Going on a family hike is a great way to pull your kids away from their screens and enjoy time together in nature. Whether you visit a local park with a trail system or you travel to a faraway destination to find new places to explore, there are plenty of places to hike and there are locations that are perfect for every family. 

Preparing for your first family hike can seem a bit tricky, especially if you are bringing small children along. Hiking with your kids is a great way to help them connect with nature at an early age, but it can be a bit scary. Rest assured, though, that with a little bit of careful planning, your first family hiking adventure will go off without a hitch. Keep reading for some helpful advice on preparing for your first family hike. 

Keep It Simple

Your first hike together as a family does not need to be anything elaborate. In fact, you should try to keep it as simple and enjoyable as possible. For kids, hiking is all about the experience. If that first experience isn’t a fun one, you’re going to have a hard time getting them to go out again. Choose a trail that is relatively simple and not too long. A loop that is relatively flat is a good choice. Try to find a destination with interesting features like a waterfall, lake or stream. Point out various animals and species of birds or try to identify the trees you encounter. Maintain a leisurely pace and make it all about having fun. 

Don’t be afraid to go slow. When you are hiking with your family, it should be all about the journey rather than the destination. If you don’t make it all the way to the end of your planned hike, it’s no big deal. Exploring is just as rewarding and letting your kids do it will help build their love of nature. 

Make Sure Everyone is Dressed Appropriately

There is no need to go out and buy a bunch of fancy hiking gear for your first trek, but it is important to make sure everyone is dressed appropriately. Check the weather before you head out and choose clothing that is suitable. On a mild spring or summer day, a lightweight t-shirt and a pair of comfy pants work well for laid-back hikes. If the temperature is cooler or you are going on a more strenuous hike, it is best to dress in layers

Expect to get dirty. A family hike is not the right time to wear that brand-new shirt or outfit your kids in their Sunday best. Basic t-shirts that you don’t mind getting dirty are a much better choice. Choose appropriate footwear for everyone. Even on a simple hike, flip-flops are not appropriate. Everyone should wear a pair of sneakers or boots that is comfortable and provides adequate support. Your kids may protest about wearing sneakers instead of flip-flops or sandals, but trust us, they will complain more if they wear the wrong shoes and end up with aching feet halfway through the hike! 

Pack the Right Gear

It is important to load up a backpack with some essentials. Anytime you are going on a hike, it’s smart to bring a basic first aid kit and a few emergency supplies, including a lighter/matches/fire starter, emergency shelter and water filter or chemical purification tablets.

You should apply sunscreen before you head out, but it’s also a good idea to bring some with you for touchups. Lip balm that provides SPF protection is a must, too. Bug spray should also be applied before you start your hike but bring the can with you to reapply. Look for a high-quality spray that is formulated to combat mosquitos as well as ticks. If your kids are young, look for a product that is safe for them. 

Bring enough water for everyone in the family. If you are going on a short hike, a bottle or two per person should be sufficient. It never hurts to bring extra, though, just in case you end up being out longer than anticipated.  Pack some high-protein snacks like jerky or energy bars. Of course, make sure you have snacks that your kids will actually eat, too. Stop for snacks frequently. Having frequent snacks instead of waiting for larger meals helps keep kids energized and can prevent them from getting tired and cranky. 

Don’t forget the fun items! We suggest a bluetooth speaker that is waterproof and can keep up with your kids energetic nature. Binoculars and a magnifying glass serve as the perfect tools for helping your kids make amazing discoveries along the trail. Don’t forget a camera to capture all those memories! 

Have Fun!

When it comes to getting your kids interested in hiking, making it fun is extremely important. Keep your kids motivated and make sure they are enjoying themselves by creating games they can enjoy on the trail. Come up with a scavenger hunt, identify different types of wildflowers or look for birds that are native to the area in which you are hiking. Engage with your kids and let them explore. Tell your kids how proud you are of them and how well they are hiking. Tell them they’re strong, fast and all around amazing. Positive reinforcement is a powerful tool that will help make your first hike an enjoyable one and make kids want to go out again. 

A Review of the Buckshot Pro Ultra

Review by Harold Whitford from Bikes Haven.

I’m quite meticulous when it comes to picking cycling accessories. So, when I heard about the Buckshot Pro Ultra wireless speaker, I was thrilled and skeptical about it at the same time. But after taking it for a test ride, the only thing I regret is not buying it sooner. 

For me, being able to bring a charger, flashlight, and a portable speaker all embedded in one small and lightweight gadget is fascinating and impressive. And in a way, the Buckshot Pro has saved me a lot of money that I would have otherwise spent if I bought each accessory separately. 

What is the Buckshot Pro Ultra? 

The Buckshot Pro is a combination of a Bluetooth speaker, a flashlight, and a portable charger. The speaker delivers hi-fi sound and an excellent amount of bass. Its flashlight includes a number of lighting modes for different levels of visibility, and the integrated charging system lets you juice up small electronics as you ride your bike.  

How to Use the Buckshot Pro Ultra When Cycling 

I’ve tested dozens of bike accessories in the last 6 months, and I can tell you that none of them come close to what the Buckshot Pro is. In my twenty-something hours of testing, I noticed how easy the device was to set up and how well it performed.

Setup  

The outer design features mounting straps to fix the device on a bike’s handlebar. To get started, place the Buckshot Pro on either side and adjust the strap to fit. 

mountain biking speaker

Putting the Buckshot Pro Ultra to Work 

1. The Bluetooth Speaker 

This one has been good company for me, especially on the loneliest trails that I’ve found myself on. The built-in Bluetooth speaker allows me to play music as I bike and dance to my favorite jams to get the most out of my rides. 

This gadget’s Bluetooth technology even lets you stream music from a wireless device like a smartphone or a Bluetooth enabled MP3 player. There’s even an integrated microphone that lets you make and receive calls on the spot. 

From my firsthand experience, the sound quality is undeniably up to standards. The highs are clean, the lows are deep, and the bass is spot on. With a 10-hour playtime on a single charge, you can go on long distance bike rides while listening to your favorite music. 

2. Power Bank 

The Buckshot Pro’s built-in power bank has been quite handy in juicing up two of my USB-rechargeable GPS-enabled cycling computers. For what it’s worth, the energy allows me the grace period to keep tracking my biking performance when it would have been impossible otherwise. 

Frankly, I don’t often bring a smartphone with me to a bike ride. But when I do, I like to use Buckshot Pro to charge it up. Quite a good power bank if you ask me. 

3. Bike Light 

The Buckshot Pro Ultra lets me cruise through dark trails without worrying about hitting anyone or hurting myself. The brightness level stands at 100 lumens, which is allows other road users to spot you. The strobe, torch, bright, and dim lantern light modes all work together to make you easily visible. At 100 lumens, you won’t be visible at a long distance, but other people will still notice you even in the deep dark.

What I Think About the Buckshot Pro Ultra 

I love the Buckshot Pro because it’s lightweight. At only 0.42 pounds, this device is so super light that it doesn’t add weight to my bike. 

It’s even IPX5 rated, so it can stand up to elements like dust and resist water in drizzles. I wish it were waterproof, though. 

My Final Thoughts on the Buckshot Pro Ultra

I don’t know about you, but I think Buckshot Pro is an innovative gadget that’s changing the way we perceive bike tech. Not to mention, it takes the bike riding experience to the next level. It’s the ideal combination of a bike light, a bike stereo, and a charger for a small electronic all-in-one. 

Top Gifts to Give Your Best Friend this Holiday Season

It’s no secret that this year has been a difficult one. Many of us are tired, overwhelmed, and craving connection with the people we love — which is why this holiday season will be more important than ever. Even if you can’t physically gather with your friends or extended family, you can still show them how much you care with a beautiful personalized gift.

You can find a personalized gift for everyone on your list, from your parents, nieces, and nephews, to your best friend in the world. But what, exactly, should you get your best friend this year? The answer depends on their interests… but we’ve got a few ideas that we think you’ll love!

For the “Monica” of Your Group: A Recipe Cutting Board

Is your best friend the person who hosts Friendsgiving? Are they always ready with a freshly baked treat when you walk in the door? Give them something that’s truly special and embraces their love of the kitchen: a personalized cutting board etched with a family recipe. 

With both maple and cherry wood finishes, you can select a board to suit any decorating style. This beautiful paddle cutting board can be a lovely serving tray for special events, or it can simply be decor for the kitchen. Trust us, once they see this beauty they’ll be baking you lots of cookies to thank you!

For the Constant Jet-Setter: A Personalized Passport Holder

This friend has the most enviable Instagram page you’ve ever seen. They’re constantly flying off to some beautiful and exotic locale, and they usually bring you back a cute souvenir or two. Even if travel is on hold at the moment, this friend needs something to remind them that soon they can get back in the skies.

A personalized passport holder is a great way to indulge your friend’s love of travel while making them feel extra fancy. The soft, vegan leather feels ultra-luxe, and the laser engraving will last as long as your friend’s passport (maybe even longer).

For the Music Lover: A Bluetooth Speaker

We all have that one friend who’s always in charge of the party playlist. They love music, they know all the latest artists, and they will not rest until they’ve found the perfect song to suit the mood. If that person is your best friend, give them a new way to play their tunes this holiday season.

bluetooth speaker will allow your friend to play the latest songs anywhere they go — in the car, on a camping trip, even while lounging in the pool! With a durable and sleek design, this speaker will quickly become a constant companion for your friend, and that means you’ll be treated to their best playlists every time you’re together (bonus!).

For Your Partner-in-Crime: A Keepsake Box

Of all your friends, this one is like the friend you’ve known the longest. You two have shared countless memories, from special events like concerts and vacations to many nights in binge-watching Netflix. While you may not have spent as much time together this year (dang 2020), you can give them a gift that shows them how much you value your time together.

A personalized keepsake box is a perfect gift for anyone who wants to save precious memories with their friends and loved ones. Have it engraved with your names and fill it with ticket stubs, funny photos, souvenirs from trips, and so much more. This is one gift that will truly last a lifetime.

For the One Whose Phone is About to Die: A Power Bank

Now, we’re not trying to shame this friend, but we all know who it is. This is the friend whose phone is always at one percent, the one who takes hours to respond to your texts, the one who — as much as you love them — could use a little help getting it together this holiday season.

How can you help this friend keep their phone from shutting down mid-call? Get them a portable power bank. This small, rechargeable battery can fit nicely in their car, purse, or backpack so that they always have a little extra power handy.

Get Personalized Gifts For Everyone on Your List

Whether you’re shopping for your parents, best friends, or that someone special, you can’t go wrong if you put some thought into who they are. After all, it’s the thought that counts!

Best Hobbies to Pick Up During the Pandemic

These are challenging times for everyone. It helps to have a hobby to occupy your mind and your time. The situation going on around us is unprecedented, but it’s full of opportunities if you know where to look. Rather than sitting around the house feeling bored, lonely, and worried, why not pick up a hobby? You can enrich your mind and entertain yourself, as well as your family. All you have to do is select the right activity for you. Here are some ideas to get you started.

Binge-Watch Your Faves

You might be stuck inside, but that doesn’t mean that there’s nothing to do. During times like these, sometimes you need to do something soothing that will not only take your mind off of what’s happening, but will also numb you a bit and take you out of the situation. For that reason, binge-watching movies and TV shows might be your best bet. You can turn it into something fun, even something that has a purpose. For example, this is your opportunity to catch up on all the shows you always wanted to watch but never had time to enjoy. You could also sit down to watch an entire movie series, such as the Lord of the Rings trilogy or all of the Marvel movies—in order. To make it more enjoyable, consider Facetiming or Zooming with a group of friends while you watch.

Pick Up a Book

Speaking of immersing yourself in different worlds, all you need is a book to transport yourself to a faraway place. At the very least, you can get lost in a world where the pandemic isn’t happening. It’s hard for busy adults to find time to read even when they enjoy doing so. Right now, you have no excuses and no other commitments. You’re stuck at home, so there’s no reason not to pick up a book that you’ve been dying to read. Then again, why not reread your old favorites? Books and stories are comforting, and comfort is exactly what we all need right now.

Bust Out the Crayons

Soothing activities are unquestionably some of the best hobbies to start right now. Plenty of adults have embraced some of their childhood favorites because those activities give them a sense of calm and help them to believe that everything genuinely will be okay. Whether you want to color with crayons, colored pencils, or watercolors, take a look at some adult coloring books to see what strikes your fancy. In addition to funny adult coloring books with risqué pictures and naughty words, you can also pick out books with intricate designs and breathtaking scenes.

Get to the Kitchen

Throughout the course of the pandemic, people have understandably been cooking at home more often. Many restaurants are open for delivery, takeout, and social distanced seating, but with the economy the way it is and with growing numbers of furloughs and layoffs, cooking at home is often the more practical choice. Why not turn it into an adventure? Try your hand at gourmet meals that you’ve never attempted. Experiment with baking, chocolate, or pastries. You never know, your true talents may lie in the kitchen.

Stay Active

You may be wary of going to the gym, if they’re even open in your area. That’s entirely understandable. Fortunately, that doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy physical activities. Turn your home into a gym. There’s a wide world of videos and tutorials out there that can show you exactly what to do using basic equipment. You don’t need to spend a fortune to work out at home. Simply going for a local hike or doing yoga in the backyard is excellent for your mental and physical health. You can also opt to go for a run, but don’t forget your earbuds to entertain yourself while you’re on the go.

Choose a Craft

Are you into arts and crafts? Maybe it’s time to start crafting. There are all sorts of hobbies to learn. For instance, have you ever considered crocheting or knitting? You can order the supplies, have them sent to your home, and look up video tutorials to get started. The same goes for painting, felting, jewelry making, or woodworking. Just think about an artsy hobby that you’ve always wanted to try and jump right into it.

Turn Your Thumbs Green

Have you ever considered gardening? It’s a calming activity, it serves a practical purpose, and it gives you the chance to nurture something and watch it grow. It may not be the right season for gardening where you are, but that’s okay. You can set up an indoor garden, instead. Consider creating a container garden in your sunroom or treat yourself to an herb garden starter kit. You can grow herbs right in your kitchen. Not only are they beautiful and fragrant, but they can elevate all of your cooking endeavors, as well.

This is by no means a comprehensive list of hobbies. You may decide that it’s the perfect time for a few DIY home improvements. Learning a new language may be right up your alley. What hobby interests you the most?


5 Lesser-Traveled Spots to Check Out That Are COVID Friendly

The COVID-19 pandemic has been excellent for outdoors lovers. Bars are closed. Conventions and amusement parks are widely considered bad ideas. What’s left for simple recreation is getting outside to camp, hike, backpack, and otherwise enjoy nature and all its myriad attractions. 

However, many of our favorite outdoor locations have become crowded by groups who usually would have gone to Disneyland or stayed closer to home, sampling the local pubs and restaurants. This not only makes these destinations less enjoyable for a diehard outdoors lover, but it also makes them dangerous. A crowded campground can be just as hazardous as an overpopulated beach, from a disease vector standpoint.

Until there’s a vaccine, good sense and a spirit of adventure both dictate that we go to the lesser-known spots. Here are a few great ones from different parts of the country.

1. Pacific Northwest: Toad Lake Campground

This small patch of camping bliss is 12 miles west of I-5 near Mount Shasta. It’s one of the hike-in-only locations on the Pacific Crest Trail, a strong deterrent for casual campers. You can take your pick of developed sites with park benches and nearby toilets or hike the extra few miles for a back-country or primitive space. The farther you go, the more separated you’ll be from the crowds.

Its eponymous lake covers 23 acres surrounded by hilly forest. The shores vary from thick woods to rocky outcroppings to meadows. Boats are not permitted, making it great for fishing and swimming. There’s not much going on besides the beautiful, off-the-beaten-path nature, but that’s all we need. It might even be the perfect spot to bring out your Waterproof Speaker and lounge around for a bit.

Toad Lake Campground is open all year. Camping sites are first-come, first-served.

How to Get There

Turn onto exit 738 from I-5 near Mount Shasta, heading west. Follow Route 26/Barr Rd and turn off at the Toad Lake sign. Follow the winding road to the parking lot, then hike in following the marked trail.

2. Southwest: South Ruby Campground

A fishing and boating paradise located in the Ruby Valley National Wildlife Refuge, this campground is rarely close to as crowded as its location and amenities would suggest. It sits at 6,000 feet elevation around the coast of Ruby Lake in Nevada. Despite being a classic high desert location, its lake and marshlands attract stopover species from all around, making it one of the best bird and wildlife watching locations in the area.

The campground is located among pinyon pine and juniper, offering a shady place to pitch your tent in one of 35 sites, including one double spot and one wheelchair-accessible site. All sites have picnic tables and campfire rings, with vault toilets and running water available nearby. Besides being out of the way, the campground’s structure runs screens of trees between sites, making social distancing (and privacy) easy.

Unlike many of the out-of-the-way camping opportunities on this list, South Ruby allows boating, ATV riding, and off-road vehicles.

South Ruby Campground is open May through September, with exact dates announced one year ahead of time. You can book sites up to six months in advance.

How to Get There

Turn south off I-80 onto Route 227 near Elko. Turn right onto Route 228 and follow it past Jiggs. As the highway begins to turn north in a wide dogleg, turn right onto Ruby Valley Road and take it to the campground. If 228 turns into 767, you’ve gone too far.

3. Southeast: Linville Gorge

“The Grand Canyon of the East” is a rugged river valley in Burke County, North Carolina. The land is so steep and rough it was never harvested for timber, leaving much of it as pristine, old-growth forest rare on that side of the Mississippi River. The designated National Wilderness Area covers 12,000 acres deep forest, offering multiple rare plant species and excellent wildlife and bird viewing opportunities. The Linville River cuts a meandering path through granite walls, creating stunning falls, steep gorges, and multiple deep coves for swimming and fishing.

Trails here are not well-maintained or even clearly marked, but they offer unique, spectacular vistas to experienced hikers. Camping (with permits) is available both in established, primitive campsites and simple backwoods spaces. Motor travel is not permitted, and cellular reception is spotty. This is wilderness camping, so come prepared.

The Linville Gorge wilderness is open year-round.

How to Get There

You can access this large patch of wilderness from multiple locations, including simple roadside trailheads and a few logging roads kept open during the summer months. Aim your GPS for Spruce Pine, North Carolina. or Lenoir, North Carolina, and set off from there. Local guides can tell you what’s best and what’s least crowded at any particular time.

4. Great Plains: Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge

Another sizable protected area, Wichita Mountain Wilderness contains Fawn Creek Campgrounds and Doris Campground. It covers more than 59,000 acres of scrubland containing rough hills, plains, and waterways. It’s one of the oldest national wildlife refuges in the United States and home to roaming herds of bison and longhorns. Locals and road trippers visit for camping near the Visitor’s Center, but the hiking trails and boating opportunities go deep into the Refuge.

Camping opportunities are more strictly regimented here than in many other areas. Doris Campground offers hookups for RVs and pop-up tent vehicles (tents are currently prohibited). Fawn Creek Campground is reserved for organized youth groups. Everybody else is invited to enjoy backcountry camping, which is likely what you wanted anyway if you’re reading this article. All three options are by permit only, available up to three months in advance.

Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge is open all year, though some facilities shut down or curtail operations during winter.

How to Get There

Drive west out of Lawton on Highway 62. At Cache, turn right onto 115 and enter the area Refuge near Doris Campground. For faster access to the Visitor’s Center, continue on 62 and turn right on Route 54. Turn right onto Hwy 49, which leads you straight into the Refuge and to the Visitor’s Center.

5. New England: Cutler Coast

This area is also known as the Bold Coast, and it offers some of the most extended tracts of undeveloped coastline along the East Coast. Activity here is centered on trail hiking, including the famed Caribou Loop and Black Point Brook Loop. You can access most camping by car, but some of the best views, hiking, and wildlife viewing are only available to those willing to reach them on foot (or by paddling).

The entire area is dotted with primitive camping opportunities, all first-come, first-served. The main areas include Fairy Beach, Machias River Corridor, Donnell Pond, and Stave Island. Bear in mind that hiking is often strenuous and consists of some hazardous conditions. This getaway is not recommended for families with small children or novice hikers, making it an excellent choice for experienced outdoors lovers looking to avoid crowds during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Cutler Coast is open year-round, but the hazards increase and the foliage decreases as soon as the snow starts to fall.

How to Get There

Follow 191 northeast out of Cutler (accessible via 191 by driving south, then east out of East Machias). You’ll find multiple turn-offs and opportunities on your right as you go.

Final Thoughts

Visiting these out-of-the-way spaces is no guarantee you’ll be alone or at no risk of COVID-19 exposure. Be sure to include hand sanitizer, face masks, medical gloves, and similar items in your packing kit. For the time being, they’re as important as your cooking supplies and first aid gear.

John Bradley lives with his family of six in Oregon. They hiked and completed a big trip across the country in an RV during COVID-19.

Hiking Or Camping? Here’s How to Spot Poison Ivy and Poison Oak

Spending time outdoors is one of the best things we can do for our physical and mental health — especially right now. And if you’re looking for something invigorating to distract you from the pandemic, hiking or camping should probably be on your list.

Of course, you do need to take precautions when you participate in these outdoor activities. Although going outside can be one of the safest options right now, that doesn’t mean there won’t be hazards waiting for you. Many of those hazards occur naturally, so you’ll want to be mindful whenever you’re walking through wildlife. If you keep an eye out, you might even find a Mossy Oak Buckshot Pro hiding in the bushes.

As we move from summer to fall, you’ll still need to be aware of the animals and plants that can cause harm. Poison ivy and poison oak are among these dangers. It’ll behoove you to learn exactly what these plants look like so you can avoid them on the trail. That way, nothing can ruin your trip.

Poison Ivy Vs. Poison Oak: How to Tell the Difference

Both poison ivy and poison oak can cause allergic reactions (which typically show up in the form of a bodily rash) due to the urushiol they contain. In fact, 85% of Americans are allergic to poison ivy. Both plants are characterized by their lack of thorns and their three-leaf clusters. (If you’ve ever heard the expression, “leaves of three, let them be,” you’ll already be familiar with this aspect of their physical appearance). They also grow as either a vine or a bush, have red berries and white flowers, and come in a variety of sizes. They also tend to turn red in color during the fall.

However, poison ivy and poison oak also have some key differences that can help you know which plants to avoid. Poison ivy often grows close to the ground and has vines or stems that are fuzzy in appearance. Its leaves are almond-shaped and may look shiny. Poison oak has leaves that are a bit more rounded and “hairy.” They really do look similar to oak leaves. 

Avoiding and Treating Poison Ivy or Poison Oak

Knowing how to differentiate between poison ivy and poison oak can allow you to avoid making contact with these hazardous plants. But you may not always be able to rely on your quick reactions to keep you safe. When hiking, camping, or spending time in nature, you should consider wearing protective clothing to cover your skin. Long pants and long-sleeved shirts should be worn to provide a barrier between your bare skin and any plants you might brush up against.

But since reactions to poison ivy and poison oak aren’t immediate, you might realize too late that you’ve unknowingly touched them. You should first wash all exposed areas of your skin (or the affected area, if a rash has started to form) with soap and cool water. You can use cool compresses, calamine lotion, or antihistamines to treat the symptoms. Be sure to seek medical care if the rash becomes increasingly uncomfortable or if it’s accompanied by blisters, swelling, fever, or difficulty breathing. In most cases, however, the rash will eventually dissipate on its own within a couple of weeks.

Now that you know all about poison ivy and poison oak, you can hike or camp with confidence.

Analysis of a Successful Traveler’s Gear

There’s a lot to think about when you’re a frequent traveler. From the types of clothing you pack and the shoes you wear to the airport to how many bags you bring and where you keep all your essentials, a successful traveler has a plan for everything. If you’re wondering what you need to have in order to ensure your travels are comfortable and convenient, explore these top tips for the most essential traveler’s gear everyone should have.

  1. Inflatable Pillows

Getting rest while in the air or on the road is critical. You don’t want to arrive exhausted and take days to recover from your flight and adjust to a new time zone. Whether you’re traveling for work or adventure, you want to get out and get at it right away! An inflatable pillow allows you to bring an ultra-compact accessory that provides so much comfort during your trip. Since it’s inflatable, your pillow can fit into any zippered compartment, side pouch, and even in your pants pocket. 

Once you’re settled in your seat, you can inflate your pillow to your desired comfort level. Instead of using those weird, flat airline pillows, you now have more neck support than ever. Since inflatable pillows are so versatile, you can find them in a number of sizes, shapes, and fabrics to customize your experience.

  1. Compact Electronics

Your phone may nearly be the size of a laptop these days, but that doesn’t mean that all your other electronic accessories and essentials need to take up a lot of space. From docking stations to portable chargers, you should be looking for all-in-one travel electronic tools that make it a whole lot easier to just pack up and go. Look for battery packs that fit right onto your phone or charging cords that split into several strands and can charge multiple phones, tablets, and cameras. The more you can compact your electronics, the easier it is to bring more of the travel accessories you really need.

  1. TSA Friendly Bags & Cases

TSA pre-check and carry-on only travelers may have a great deal, but that’s not always an option for everyone. To ensure you have the easiest time getting through airport security, a TSA-friendly bag is one of the most important pieces in your traveler’s arsenal. Look for laptop backpacks that have separate and distinct compartments, so that you can easily access your laptop and whip it out for security. Restraining straps are also a top choice for TSA-friendly bags to allow you to access any section of your carry-on without opening and sorting through the entire thing.

Travel bags are about more than just being efficient for security checkpoints though. They’re also more durable and protective than other backpacks and bags. You’ll find travel bags that are weather resistant and waterproof, ones that can convert from backpacks to messenger bags, and bags with specialty contoured designs that make them easier to carry over long distances — no matter how heavy they are!

  1. Packing Cubes

Organization in packing is the key to making sure you can fit everything you need into the smallest space available. With travel restrictions in place dictating how many bags you can bring and how much they’re allowed to weigh, strategizing where everything fits in your bag is one of the most important parts of packing. Invest in some travel cubes to make packing more like Tetris and less like Jumble.

  1. Comfortable Clothing

Getting to and from the airport means you don’t want to be messing with your clothing or tripping over heels as you rush through security, terminals, and gates. Comfortable travel clothing ensures you feel good in any situation — whether you’re running to catch your connecting flight or freezing in an over-air-conditioned cabin. Athleisure and loungewear are the most recommended options for flying. Opt for leggings, sweats, layered tops, and slip-on sneakers to create a flexible wardrobe that you can adjust to your surroundings.

  1. Supportive Travel Shoes

Traveling to your destination can require a surprising amount of walking even if you’re mostly navigating airports and train stations. When you’re walking around through airports and foreign cities, thinking about your shoes is probably the last thing on your mind. But, if you want to get through your trip without aching feet and legs or a sore back, you should move your shoes to the top of your list. Get travel shoes with thicker soles and more shock absorption, as well as light, breathable fabric that won’t weigh down your bag. Bonus for finding a shoe with removable arch support that allows you to insert your own orthopedic footwear!

Become a Travel Expert

man holding luggage photo

Travel looks very different now than it did five years ago, or even just one year ago. While there are still a depressing amount of travel restrictions in place, don’t lose hope! Embrace the change in travel and evolve with the times to ensure that when everything opens up again, you’ll be ready with quality traveling gear.

The First Time I Took my Turtle Shell for a Swim

Life is filled with many firsts. First love. First car. First legal drink. First concert. First paycheck. The list goes on. I’m here to talk about one of my firsts. The first time I took my Turtle Shell 3.0 for a swim. It was truly quite a rush. Nothing compares to the feeling of relaxing in my Jacuzzi with my Turtle Shell floating right beside me…literally my right-hand man for music.

Here’s how it all began. It was a Thursday night around 9pm. I had around 15 friends over to celebrate. Not too sure what we were celebrating, but it seemed like a good excuse to throw a little party. Of course my Turtle Shell 3.0 was center of attention the entire night. You can’t have a party without good music! My friends were mentioning how cool the speaker was, and they were obsessing over the rugged shape. I thought it’d be a good time to point out that the speaker was fully water-proof. I got a few looks of doubt, a few looks of complete shock, and a few looks of excitement. Of course now I had to prove it.

We headed outside to my Jacuzzi and stood over the ledge. We all kind of stared at the speaker, then the water, then back at the speaker. At this moment, I realized I had never even splashed water on this thing. What if I break it? I don’t want to pay for a new one! All my friends are expecting to be wowed by the Turtle Shell, so let’s see what it’s got! I grabbed the speaker and dunked it under the water, then I let it float around the Jacuzzi. Success! The Turtle Shell continued to blast music and wasn’t fazed by the water. “WOAHHH that’s so dope!!” My guy friends were clearly amazed. My Turtle Shell proved itself and showed why it’s worth the money.

The first time I took my Turtle Shell 3.0 for a swim changed my life. Why have the speaker 5ft away on a table when I can have it in arms reach, right next to me. If you ever catch me in my Jacuzzi, you can bet the Turtle Shell 3.0 will be right there with me.