Las Vegas

ACEDIA • TRISTITIA • LUXURIA • IRA • VANGLORIA • GULA • AVARITIA 

S L O T H
Sin City isn’t just about legalized gambling and prostitution; it has so much more to offer than people think. I’ve been to Vegas quite a few times and wasted my afternoons at poolsides sipping colorful drinks with umbrellas, exploring the insides of all the fancy hotels and being taken in by the lights and shows. But there is more to Vegas than that and once you’re done relaxing it’s time to explore!

On one of my solo trips to Vegas, I decided to explore nature. I looked up in TripAdvisor the best hikes and headed over to Red Rock Canyon which is only a 35 minute drive from the strip. I spent my afternoon in the sun with fresh air covered in dirt. I love a day where I end up covered in dirt. I explored the area, studied the cacti until about sunset.


S O R R O W 
I didn’t have anywhere to stay that night and things got a little pricey at the last minute. So I thought I’d try something a little adventurous and booked a $17 bed at “Hostel Cat” figuring I’d at least make some new friends and get some interesting stories. It did not disappoint. As I drove up to the hostel there were two strippers outside on a swing. Already proving interesting. I felt a little uneasy as I realized I wasn’t in the best part of the strip. A part I had yet to discover. When I got inside I was given a code and instructions. Once inside the main gate, after two codes that change daily, I felt a bit safer. I chose the mixed bed dorm as I usually make more friends with guys than girls, who in my experience tend to be cliquish and extra messy. I secured my belongings, showered and headed to the common area to make friends.

L U S T
img_2190I just happened to be there for the first Friday of the month. All the food trucks were out, local bands, artists and performers. We had a great time and I highly recommend it. As many nights in Vegas end, we ended up at a local dive gay bar. Thank goodness for my new hostel mates because a lesbian couple tried to make me their new roommate!

W R A T H
The next day one of my best friends just so happened to be in town so we made a lunch and headed out to the Hoover Dam. If you haven’t been, it’s a landmark worth seeing. Powering three states with electricity, the Hoover Dam supplies power to over 18 million people. Where Mother Nature is never a force to reckon with on its own, absolutely never mess with a construction where man and nature combine forces. The death toll numbers are controversial from even the birth of the construction; the death from flooding, accidents and the suicides are incalculable. There is definitely an eerie feeling when you look over the edge of the railing. Honestly, it was so fascinating and you can even cross another state border off your list if that’s your sort of thing. We saw loads of military helicopters and airplanes circling above and we came up with a couple of good conspiracy theories about Area 51. The drive back is a bit brutal with traffic (especially with a full bladder) so I recommend you time the drive home around the traffic.


E N V Y
We made it back in time to hit up a couple of poolside happy hours and if you plan Vegas properly it doesn’t have to be expensive. As soon as you land in Vegas and Instagram your selfies with #vegas or anything similar, club promoters will start messaging you with deals. I personally am not a club person although I’ve had some pretty memorable experiences in some; usually ending the night with at least one marriage proposal. I’ve had a guy give my friends $100 to promise to keep me safe. (They gave him change as $100 seemed like too much for me at the time; apparently I need new friends.) I’m more of a dive bar kinda girl and people watching is my main game. Vegas dive bars are like “people of Wal-Mart” on steroids at prime time. Everyone has a story and they all are waiting to tell you if you’re up for it. Be ready to hear a lot of doom and gloom and tons of terrible decisions. It’s amazing!

G L U T T O N Y
img_4356Another highlight of Vegas and what would America’s City of Sin be without the tastiest of the deadly sins… Las Vegas buffets. You can eat your way around the world for $25-$200 depending on your quality of poison. Again, I’m not really one for flash and crowds so you can usually find me people watching and soaking up that cheap happy hour booze with $5 steak and eggs or at Ellis Island where they have steak, gambling and Karaoke.

 

 

G R E E D
There is something for every budget and lifestyle in Vegas. I’m not much of a gambler,personally, but occasionally you can find me at the wheel of fortune slot machine earning some free drinks. If gambling isn’t your thing, you can hike, learn history, site see, live your flashiest life or finally get that envious “hangover movie” kind of night and wake up with a tiger. I was accidentally an extra in a movie once while tanning by the pool. The world is yours in Vegas and all the possibilities are at your fingertips. Careful what you wish for and live semi responsibly, you could also end up at a drive thru Elvis chapel marrying a stranger… it is Vegas after all.

Patagonia, Part one: Santiago

~By:  Marco

The 1st of December, a date that will never be the same for me again. A date which was the beginning of something new. Exactly one year ago, I had my first flight as an international flight attendant. It shaped me into who I am, and changed my perspective of life. On how we travel. Of what is out there.

Since then I have traveled to over 60 different airports – all around the world. To celebrate this one year anniversary, I wanted to explore a missing continent on my list: South America. Add a Spanish-speaking backpacking friend in the equation, and off I went. First stop: Santiago, Chile.

PART ONE: CHILE

At the gate I do a quick search of where I am actually going. Since this was a rather spontaneous decision, I honestly had no idea what to expect. I just booked the flight and that was it. I will see where it takes me. I find out that the area is called ‘Patagonia’ and after a quick image search, I start to smile. I always hate it when people smile at their phones, but now I am as guilty as everyone else.

Travel does funny things to me. I get a funny feeling in my stomach. The excitement of new places with new people is hard to match. As I walk towards the plane, I hear the oh-so-familiar final boarding call in the background. At the door I got assigned my seat–business class; hello job perks! I consider myself incredibly lucky, sitting there with a glass of champagne in my hand. The excitement in my stomach. Nothing booked, nothing planned. Just two weeks of adventures ahead. Why do people go to all-inclusive resorts again? I’ve never really understood.

After a smooth flight with actually a decent amount of sleep (probably due to the overflow of champagne), I meet my friend at arrivals. We have been friends since we went to school together in the Netherlands, where we both grew up. After school, he went traveling and I moved to the United Kingdom to work for my current airline. We hadn’t seen each other since, making the reunion even better.

My friend had met a family during his travels and without asking, an invitation was extended to stay in their guestroom. We were treated like family. The whole family lives close to each other. This resulted in breakfast at mum’s, lunch at a cousin’s and dinner at grandma’s. Even with me speaking zero Spanish, and them speaking zero English, you would be surprised how much fun you can have. Especially if you add in a few Pisco Sours (the local spirit). This particular family is possibly the most hospitable people I have ever met. Hearing the stories from my friend, it seems to be part of their culture. I wish we had a bit more of this in Northern Europe.

After being fed and watered, it was time to hit the road. We started with San Cristóbal Hill, one of the three hills of Santiago. I had just arrived from London where it was the start of winter and temperatures are just above zero. Here, with a clear blue sky and very little shade, the 25 degrees is quite a bit of change. A welcomed change. With one small bottle of water between the two of us (and the remnants of the Pisco Sour from last night still lingering) we definitely underestimated the 45 minute climb in the middle of the day. Luckily, we met a gardener on our way who happily brought us to a garden hose to fill up our bottle. Muchas gracias, señor! At the top, we enjoyed the incredible views over Santiago and some well deserved rest.

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On our way down we agreed on booking a night bus towards Pucón. As a backpacker, I can highly recommend night buses. It saves you a night in a hostel plus you cover the necessary miles. If you’re lucky, you can even manage to get some sleep. However I must admit, it is not the most comfortable way to spend the night but hey, we all know traveling is not always how it looks on Instagram, right? Plus it makes you appreciate the little things in life again.

After an 8 hour bus ride we arrive in Pucón. The further we go south, the quieter it becomes. The villages get smaller, the food becomes more expensive (as do the beers), and the tops of the mountains are covered in more and more snow. I remind myself of the fact that I only packed one pair of jeans and one sweater/hoody/jumper. Travel light they said. After we gathered some information from our hostel we decided to hike volcano Villarrica (pronounced Billarrica). One of the most active volcanoes in Chile, I find out later. At 6:30 the next morning we get picked up from our hostel to be kitted up, as it is freezing at the top. This being my first ever volcano hike, I must say I was pretty excited. Imagine a kid-in-a-candy-store smile.

On the way to the volcano my friend is speaking crazy-fast Spanish with the local guides. I am enjoying the time ‘on my own’. Carefully listening to what they say, to see if I can pick up any words I might understand. All the while enjoying the incredible views and mentally preparing myself.

The whole group takes the cable car up to the base of the volcano. But not us! If you do it, you have to do it right. As confident as we are, we decide to hike from the start. With an additional 30 minutes of hiking, the guide is taking the lead at a pretty speedy pace. And I find myself regretting our decision already. Luckily, it isn’t all too bad and we join the rest of the group at the base of the mountain. The pace changed. As fast as we initially hiked, we are slowly climbing now. Everyone climbs the mountain in one big chain. And you know, the chain is only as strong as its weakest link.

As we get higher and higher, the temperature gets colder. Heavy winds start to blow into my face which forces me to continuously look down. Step by step, meter for meter. Focused on the two feet in front of me. We slowly make our way up until suddenly, we stop. Used to the pace, I fail to react quickly and bump hard into the backpack in front of me. How exciting is hiking again?

As we slowly reach the top, I quickly put on my gas mask as the smell is now unbearable. The weird sulfur smell makes people gag. I am glad to finally be released of my heavy backpack. Curious by nature, I detrimentally walk to the edge of the crater. Within seconds I see lava squirting out of the crater below us. This is what I came for; this is what I wanted to see. I look around, taking it all in– snow is everywhere, mountains as far as you can see. Smoke is billowing out of the crater now. It’s crazy knowing boiling lava is right below me. I sit down and appreciate the view. It was all worth it: every meter, every step. Even hitting the backpack in front of me over and over again.

Then the guide brings me back to reality. We have to make ourselves ready for the trek down. Or at least that is what I thought……..

Check parts two and three of Marco’s South American backpacking saga and our other blogs about Chile

Follow Marco’s adventures on Instagram:  Marcookunst

Marco’s Travel Itinerary and Hostel Information

Flights: London Heathrow (LHR) > Aeropuerto Internacional Ministro Pistarini, Buenos Aires (EZE) > Aeropuerto Internacional Comodoro Arturo Merino Benítez, Santiago (SCL)

Bus: Santiago > Pucón > San Carlos de Bariloche > El Calafate > El Chaltén > El Calafate

Flights: Comandante Armando Tola International Airport, El Calafate (FTE) > Aeropuerto Internacional Ministro Pistarini, Buenos Aires (EZE) > London Heathrow (LHR)

Pucon:  I love Pucon Hostel http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:kGXXEyIOAm0J:www.dutch.hostelworld.com/hosteldetails.php/I-love-Pucon-Hostel-and-Backpackers/Pucon/270352+&cd=6&hl=nl&ct=clnk&gl=uk&client=firefox-b-ab

Bariloche:  Universal Travelers Lodge Hostel
http://www.hostelworld.com/hosteldetails.php/Universal-Traveller-s-Lodge-Hostel/Bariloche/79005?dateFrom=2017-04-07&dateTo=2017-04-10&number_of_guests=2&sc_pos=3

El Calafate:  Hostel de las manos
http://www.hostelworld.com/hosteldetails.php/Hostel-de-las-Manos/El-Calafate/38194

El Chalten:  La Comarca Hostel
http://www.hostelworld.com/hosteldetails.php/La-Comarca-Hostel/El-Chalten/59554?dateFrom=2017-04-07&dateTo=2017-04-10&number_of_guests=2

El Chalten:  Racho Grande Hostel
http://www.hostelworld.com/hosteldetails.php/Rancho-Grande-Hostel/El-Chalten/16797?dateFrom=2017-04-21&dateTo=2017-04-22&number_of_guests=1

Buenos Aires: Rock Hostel & Brewery
http://www.dutch.hostelworld.com/hosteldetails.php/Rock-Hostel-and-Brewery/Buenos-Aires/69163

Flight El Calafate – Buenos Aires – Aerolineas Argentinas
http://www.aerolineas.com.ar/Welcome

Bus company – Andesmar
http://www.andesmar.com/

 

 

Mt. Fuji

~By:  Damir

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Japan has many fascinating sights around its beautiful country, but for true adventurers nothing compares to Mt. Fuji. I had a friend climb Mt. Fuji a few years ago, and his stories made me extremely jealous so I knew I had to do it as well. Mt. Fuji is not a crazy tough hike, but it still plays with your mind every step to the top. Mt. Fuji, which can be seen from Tokyo on a clear day, stands at 3,776 meters (12,389ft). I had been to Tokyo a couple times and still remember going to the observation deck at the top of Tokyo Tower and staring out into the distance looking at Mt. Fuji and knowing the next time I came to Japan I would be standing at the top.

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So I did some quick research and spoke with past climbers and this is some of the information I picked up that helped me on my climb.

  • Climbing season for Fuji is only two months of the year (July & August)
  • If you fly into Tokyo Narita Airport (NRT):

Take the Narita Express train to Shinjuku (3,190 YEN = $30 / 1hr30min ride). Shinjuku is a very fun nightlife district of Tokyo. When you arrive in Tokyo, I would suggest to spend a couple days there just to acclimate to the time change and most importantly REST.

  • For accommodations in Shinjuku I stayed at Hikari House Hostel. It was a 10minute walk from Shinjuku train station and cost roughly $40 a night which is a bit pricy for a hostel but they were all around that price and hotels were around $120.
  • Leave everything you don’t need at the hostel to minimize carrying extra weight on Mt. Fuji. What to bring?: Hiking boots, thick wool socks, good base layer, fleece, and winter coat. RAIN GEAR, hat, gloves, blanket, external charger for your phone, headlamp, and an emergency first aid kit. Enough water. Snacks.

It gets colder the higher you go. Even though it was 90 degrees in Tokyo, it ended up being 40 degrees with 20mph winds at the top making it pretty cold. As you go up, the backpack gets lighter by putting on layers and eating and drinking. As you go down the backpack get a little heavier by taking off layers and putting them back in your backpack.

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Getting to Mt.Fuji:

Take the Expressway Highway Bus from Shinjuku Bus Station to Mt. Fuji 5th Station. Make a roundtrip reservation for 5,400 YEN.

The two ways to hike to the summit: It is about 6-8hrs up and about 3-4hrs down.

1.) As you go up to the top, you will pass what are called stations. They are little rest/relief areas. Each station has a few huts you can pre-book to relax, eat, nap. What the majority of people do is prebook a hut at the 8th station. So they will plan to arrive at 5th Station with the bus (which is already 1/3rd of the way up) at noon and hike for about 5hrs to 8th station. Once there, they will check into their reserved hut have a dinner and sleep until about 1am. When they wake up, they’ll have a small breakfast and continue. From there it is about another hour and a half to the summit and you will reach it right before sunrise which is around 4:30am.  After the sunrise, you can walk around the summit for a while and hang out or send a postcard from the post office located at the top!

5th station to 6th: easy
6th to 7th: easy
7th to 8th: moderate
8th to summit: difficult

2.) Another option is to not book the mountain hut and just power through overnight to the top and back. This is what I did, because I was late in getting a hut reservation in. I arrived the 5th station around 6pm and acclimated for two hours and started hiking at 8pm. It is VERY IMPORTANT to acclimate when you get to each station to avoid altitude sickness and major headaches. You must take care of yourself. Drink LOTS of water.

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The Sunrise:

Honestly, one of the most beautiful sights you will ever see. Make sure to appreciate every second of it if you are lucky enough to witness it with a low cloud cover. Some people make it to the top and the clouds are still rolling through. I was lucky enough to arrive at the 5th station already above the cloud layer so the hike was incredible. Look to the left and just see pillows and pillows of clouds. Look up and see a thousand stars.

I wish you the best of luck on your attempt of climbing Fuji and remember to drink a lot of water, eat a lot of protein bars, and take lots of breaks!

 

KONA

~By:  Julie

Hawaii is well known for being a place of physical, spiritual, and mental healing. The moment you touch the ground, you understand it’s special… it’s in the air. It’s no wonder why I’m drawn to the islands in specific moments of need. I first flew to Kona after being out of work for an injury. The big island just seems to pull me out of my comfort zone in just the right way and also is sometimes just the quiet sanctuary I’ve needed to heal in a more personal way. It presents both the adventurous and meditative side. I’ve had a lot of travel firsts here: I swam with my first sea turtle, ate fish and eggs for breakfast, marveled at the size of manta rays, tried poke and made countless memories.
You wouldn’t know it outwardly, but sometimes I battle with anxiety. I have my comfort zones with my travel group, as they are the cushion I can fall back on– my travel partners in crime. They get me going for that afternoon adventure, they make sure I don’t sleep through flight departures.

Anxiety hit me hard one morning and I was traveling alone on this particular day. I had my heart set on renting a scooter to see more of the island. With the time change, I woke up with the sunrise and I trailed down to the beach with my coffee to listen to the ocean and practice yoga. I was trying to find my own strength but still listening to the inner voice of fear and doubt. I texted my friends from home who gave me words of encouragement. I believe it was something like “You are Julie! Do it!” They had a point. I am Julie. Not always sure what that means but it felt important at that moment and for some reason, it worked. Sometimes you just need that extra push from your support group.


I have never rented a scooter alone although I’ve sat on the back of a fair amount. I arrived at Sunshine Rentals in town and they asked if I’ve ridden one before… (insert awkward facial expression emoji here), this was not a lie. He asked if I felt comfortable… I admitted I was nervous. He showed me the general layout and asked if I wanted to practice in the parking lot. I really didn’t want any witnesses for the hot mess that was about to happen so I told him I’d be fine and thanked him for his help. I said a little prayer and was so thankful that I got to try this in Hawaii instead of Asia, where they aren’t as forgiving to newbie drivers. I needed the beginner level of chill places to attempt to drive a surprisingly heavy scooter that is considerably larger than my pocket-sized little frame.


I wanted to explore the cliffs in Kahaluu-Keauhou. Nicknamed “The End of the World,” I was immediately enticed to add that to my list of unique places. Kuamo’o Bay is an ancient burial ground where old and new traditions battled. Traditionalists lost the war and with that so did the old ways which makes it a perfect place to meditate and say farewell to old inner feelings. I spent a fair amount of time watching the waves crash off the jagged lava cliffs and wondered why anyone would ever consider diving off them just for fun. I’m not at that level of adrenaline seeker just yet.

I’m so grateful that everyone is on island pace, which allowed me plenty of time and space to get used to this new method of transportation. Before I knew it, I was zipping around the island with the wind in my hair and Led Zeppelin blasting in one earbud (safety first!) with the biggest and dumbest smile ever. I can’t express the pride and joy I felt from conquering my fears. I had no intentions of returning the bike until the last minute. I zipped up the empty roads and up the mountain as far as my literal little engine could take me, before heading back down the road and passed the airport (just for the love of the open road). I finally returned my little scooter with a great sense of accomplishment and pride.

Eventually my friend joined me on the island and we decided to rent a car and drive from our hotel in the middle of the night to the other side of the island to catch the sunrise over the active volcano, Mauna Loa. We left our hotel around 3am with food and beverage provisions for the day to save time and money. Accompanied by our favorite Backstreet Boys Spotify playlist, we powered through the 190 “highway” with some of the craziest fog, rain and hairy turns in a pitch black night that makes a teenage girls emotions seem like the calmest storm. At some point in the dense fog patches, I was fairly convinced that an actual Sasquatch would cross the road and make eye contact with us in slow motion, just like the movies.


We made it to the top of Mauna Loa just in time for sunrise and it was surprisingly more chilly than we had anticipated. We had brought leggings and sweaters and sneakers but that wasn’t nearly enough. Freezing aside, we took in the view of the sun rising in the distance competing its bright orange hues with the sparks and glow from the lava. As the sun rose we could see more clearly the black rocks and the new springs of life sprouting through. As the fire goddess, Pele, believed that through fire and death, new life can be born; we took a moment to breath in the new and exhale the old.


We hopped in the car and turned the heat and the music on full blast with the hopes to defrost and rehash a plan to see some of that lava up close. The drive is absolutely spectacular! There are signs along the way with the years clearly posted where lava had reached at the time, keeping things in perspective that we were on a real active volcano and those dates weren’t actually that long ago.

Now, I’ll be honest, we did do a bit of research about the best way to get closest to the lava but bound and determined to be independent women we decided to do this alone, so we just drove the winding paths. We came to a sign where the car paths end and the walking paths begin. There was a sign indicating it would be a 5 mile walk that day to see lava; but we could see the smoke stack from where the lava was flowing into the ocean and it seemed so close. We walked for hours on loose lava rocks and seemed to not be getting any closer. At some point, we ran into a German couple and their guide and they informed us we had another solid 3 miles to go one way, and being on a time constraint as it was, we knew we would be getting back when it was dark and rainy, so we returned back feeling a little defeated with achy muscles. I won’t let that hike get the best of me though, so I can’t wait to start it over again with better provisions, way earlier, and with hopefully better weather conditions (island weather is so unpredictable). Or I’ll just drive around and attack it from the other side which seems much closer on a map in hindsight.

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On another day, we had a specific mission which involved a slightly heavier duty vehicle. I’d suggest using all your upgrades and renting the jeeps and the SUVs in Hawaii. Our hotel had provided us with complimentary snorkeling gear and boogie boards, so we were grateful for the extra room in the SUV. We set in search for the sandy paradise I had heard so much about and was beginning to think it didn’t exist, with so much of the island being black rock. Makalawena Beach is about a 30 minute hike through more of that loose gravel-like lava which really does take a toll on your legs and then through paths of sand that make you think you made a wrong turn somewhere. Make sure to bring sneakers! Even in the water, the coral is so sharp and comes out of no where. I fell victim to one of these corals but it didn’t stop me from attempting to catch a few more waves.

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Swimming in the ocean and bathing in the sun has been a well known simple and pleasing ancient remedy that doctors often prescribed patients of varying illnesses (also a great hangover cure if you are particularly struggling one day). Salt water cleanses energy, makes your skin soft, cures even the worst moods while regenerating your spirit. Playing in the water all day will also give you a hearty appetite. We saved money by buying sandwich supplies at the grocery store but Hawaii is pretty expensive any way you try and spin it. Bring anything you can from home while adhering to agriculture rules is a must. I understand taking up space in your bag for approved food is annoying when you could be using the space for that cute extra sundress (that I promise you won’t have time to use), but know you will be using that luggage space home for coffee and chocolate souvenirs.


Between the hikes, biking, snorkeling and swimming, the big island of Hawaii will keep your days full and your soul refreshed. Meditate, soak in the spirit of Hawaii, and respect the culture and nature. Remember to reflect often, learn something new and breathe out the old. Way Too Wanderlust recommends stepping outside the box, bringing approved food and alcohol, and upgrading to the SUV.

 

Because Camping is Cheaper Than Therapy

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Sometimes life is just such a series of unfortunate events. One day I will publish a book of my many life times and most likely no one would believe me… unless you were stuck with me anywhere for more than 3 days, then you would see. After a week of just so many bad things, I knew I needed to get away alone… to re center and just recover. Living in California everyone is always down to camp and they seem so enthusiastic, until the downfall of LA comes out the day before… flakiness. I love LA so much but so far my experience is a sense of adventure with a dash of flakiness. I needed this camping trip so bad after the week I had and my friend backed out last minute. That’s when it hit me, “Why am I waiting around for other people to go with me?” I’m 33 years old. I’ve lived in 3 countries and moved over 50 times in my life. I was homeschool and raised in a van for a few years as a kid. When did I loose my sense of self and my confidence? So I promised myself I’d go… no matter what. My tent was stolen out of my storage unit that week along with a ton of other things. So Amazon Prime came to the rescue after a glass of wine that I chose based on stars and color.

The day before I leave I’ve gone over every scenario in my head that could possibly happen. My friends are so encouraging and really empowered me. I bought a bottle of tequila, a 12 pack of PBR and chips. What else could you possibly need? I already have a sleeping bag in my car, a knife, most of my clothes and some other food. I’m pretty much always prepared regardless how it looks sometimes. I’m a survivor. But I couldn’t help but feel panic about being completely alone in a forest with no one and no cell phone signal. What about bears? Looters? Rapists? Snakes? Spiders? What If I got a flat tire or my car wouldn’t start and I couldn’t call anyone for help? I was literally having nightmares about every scenario. I did a tent set up drill in my best friends living room… only to find out I had purchased a beach sun tent with no doors. Another defeat.

I just pick a spot on google by a lake and loosely and randomly choose a camping spot destination. I left my best friends house at 10 am with no tent and no real plan. I found an REI on the way and well, to be honest with you, I wasn’t committed enough to throw down $150 for a tent. Next stop Wal-Mart. Where else can you get a 12 pack, an inflatable pool and spray paint; but thats a story for another day. I found a tent, an ax, some fire starter cubes and some pepper spray. Seemed legit enough. I started feeling some confidence. I bought a foot long subway sandwich and saved half for dinner.

I drove about 2 hours where I proceed to loose signal but not hope. I found a visitor center where I get a swift kick of reality that I’m doing something a little crazy. Clearly out of my element, the man at the visitor center proceeds to overflow my head with facts and names and information I couldn’t even contain. He hands me an actual map and circles my first destination. Every campsite seems to be first come first serve and no one seems confident that there are spots. When is the last time you followed an actual real map? It’s been a minute for me for sure. I used to be my dad’s co-pilot, reading the maps and giving directions as a kid in our childhood van.

Once you have an iPhone its damn near impossible to go back. I tried a couple years ago. Sold my iPhone and got a flip phone and moved to Indiana to crochet, juice and be a vegan for 3 months. Once you know what you are missing out on… wow. Remember T-9 texts? I had to actually stop and ask for directions and actually call people cause deleting every 20 messages and not remember why someone is responding with “k” to which message is infuriating. Anyways, reading a map in a strange place all alone is terrifying but amazing. I can’t wait to do that more. When I arrived (and I did arrive!), the nicest Park lady greeted me, assured me there was plenty of space and to just choose which space felt right and she would come and check me in and brief me. Immediately I have a sense of relief. I’m going to be ok.

I find “my spot” and immediately fall in love. I’m not even going to lie but I was so excited that this park offered running water, a toilet, trash bins, a fire pit, my very own picnic table, a grill, an anti bear food locket and a parking space! All for $27! This isn’t the camping I was raised on… we roughed it. For my first time camping completely alone, I was so glad to have all of these things. Why was I trying to go straight cave woman on my first attempt? I just stood there and I was waiting for someone to tell me where to put the tent. When did I let myself be so controlled? I’m 100% a free spirit and I live a very unconventional life but I roll with a huge pack and between all of us no one really has to completely adult for more than a few hours at a time. As appreciated and necessary that it, I realize I kind of forgot how strong I am and how I am more than just a survivor.

I feel out my scene, pick my spot and tackle the brand new tent that I’ve just purchased. The entire time I keep thinking that when the park ranger arrives, she’s gonna laugh at me or see that I have no idea what I’m doing. I’m paranoid that other campers are staring. Who the heck cares?! I throw myself into it and I built my tiny home before the ranger even arrived. I’m so proud of myself that I’m smiling like a weirdo. The ranger is so sweet and walks me through everything and I blurt out that this is my first time building a tent or camping alone. She’s amazing and reassures me that I did an amazing job and tells me her and her husband are just a few lots down and I can come find them any time I want. She sells me some fire wood for $8 and tells me the lot is only available one day but sometimes it falls through so she will come and check on me in the morning and let me know if it’s available to stay another day.

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I crack open a beer and set up camp. I bought a book, I’m residing in nature. I meditate, I do yoga. I sit in complete silence. Something I haven’t slowed down enough to do in a long time. I actually was afraid to be alone. As a couch surfer, I’m never alone. Which I’m fine with but I didn’t realize how much it takes a toll. As a guest you are like a host, you always have to be on 100%. Not much time to come down. Our lives are always full of noise. I’m so guilty of filling any silence with one of my hundreds of play lists to set the tone to my day. But silence is so very underrated. I lost hours to sitting in silence in the woods. Not even thinking about anything in particular. Before I know it, it’s show time. I have to build a fire. I’m channeling all the cavemen because I sincerely and honestly want to build a fire from scratch. I know how to do it. I tried. But I’m hungry and it’s getting dark and I don’t know why I’m being so hard on myself. So I break out the little fire ignitor cubes. I love the little things that make our lives so much easier.

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I didn’t try to go above and beyond so I just boil water for my yerba mate and my ramen. That’s all I need. I’m celebrating life and freedom and independence and I love finding any reason to eat ramen. A few tequilas in and I’m back to writing, and drawing and coloring and I’m happy. I need my outlets to stay sane.

 

 

For my sleeping quarters I stacked 2 yoga mats, 2 thick blankets that I acquired near the border and a sleeping IMG_6572bag. I slept fairly well considering my brain is really messing with me and I’m genuinely afraid of the bears and coyotes that the ranger told me roam in the site day and night. Only a tiny piece of nylon is keeping  a mama bear from having me as a tasty midnight snack. I woke up happier, maybe just happy to be alive, happy I survived a night and I’m positive I want to stay another night. So I just wait to see if the spot is available for another night and boil water for my delicious breakfast of yerba mate and ramen. I left the decision to fate whether I’d be staying the night and it seemed that fate knew I needed more time.

 

I ran to town to buy a cot. After multiple back injuries floor sleeping just wasn’t for me. I bought a real knife, and all the necessities to make a decent meal.

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Made some chicken and veggie kabobs, roasted some marshmallows, drank some tequila and just chilled. It was perfect. I wrote. I drew. I vented and coped. The next morning I was kind of dreading packing up camp. I wanted to stay. But I was also afraid to repack. Sleeping bags never fit back in the bag they came out of. I just want to say that it is almost just as empowering to build a tent as it is to pack it up and left the site cleaner than you left it. I absolutely cannot wait to go back. I can’t remember the last time I woke up with a smile. I felt liberated and I can’t express enough the empowerment of fending for yourself. I highly recommend it and I cannot wait to get back out there. In fact, this entire experience confirmed my decision to buy a van and make it my permanent home. I will keep you guys posted.

~By:  Julie