Tag: planning tips and tricks

10 Not-So-Fun Things About Travel

10 Not-So-Fun Things About Travel

Unfortunately, not-so-fun travel moments happen. It is not all hearts and flowers and there are definitely some unpleasant moments on the road. For me, those parts pale in comparison to all of the fun stuff. However, I think it might be worth mentioning the not-so-fun 

2018 New Year’s Resolution: Travel More

2018 New Year’s Resolution: Travel More

Travel resolutions and goals are the best in my opinion. 2017 was an incredible year for travel. I knocked off not one, but two bucket list items (Australia and the Azores), had a lovely Christmas in Europe and experienced many, many weekend adventures. I am 

Winter Activities to Make Winter Travel More Fun

Winter Activities to Make Winter Travel More Fun

I know not everyone loves winter or winter travel, but there are so many great winter activities! If you throw a little travel into the mix, you have got yourself one hell of a good time.

You may choose to travel to a particular destination specifically because it is winter and you want to experience their winter fun. Or you may find yourself in a cold-weather climate because it was the more affordable option. Or perhaps you just do not like beaches. Whatever brings you to a colder climate during the winter, you will find unique activities to make the most of your winter travel experience. Below are some suggestions you can (and should) try on your next adventure. In fact, some are an adventure all on their own! I also include some tips for winter fun while on the road.

Downhill Skiing/Snowboarding

If you have never downhill skied or snowboarded before, you are going to want to go somewhere that provides lessons. On the bright side, most ski hills provide lessons. For those of you lucky enough to already know what it feels like to swoop down the mountain (preach!), there are endless possibilities to the places you can visit. R and I are lucky enough to live in the western U.S. so finding a decent place to ski is very easy. In fact, we both own season passes to our local ski resort. However, that has not stopped us from enjoying a resort or two in other parts of the world. Vermont’s small, icy hills took us no time at all to get down. Whistler showed us what skiing in May looks like. And Zermatt, Switzerland, made my 30th birthday dreams come true.

skiing zermatt switzerland winter travel
Happy birthday to me.

Cross-Country/Nordic Skiing

Although not as difficult as downhill skiing, cross-country skiing does require some practice before you get the hang of it. (In fact, I am still not sure I have got the hang of it.) A lesson or two would not be remiss for the beginner. If you have done it before, then by all means, rent or bring your skis and hit the trails! I have only cross-country skied in Idaho and Utah, but I would love to cross-country ski in Norway one day. Note: this is a great workout. Be sure to wear layers and pack some water.

blue skies cross-country skiing idaho winter travel
A beautiful day to cross-country ski.

Ice Hockey

I have no desire to play myself, but I love to watch. In fact, it is my favorite sport to watch live. I especially enjoy attending games in smaller towns and communities. The local pride and atmosphere cannot be beat. If you are traveling anywhere in Canada or the northern U.S., check the hockey schedule and hit up a game.

Ice Fishing

Ice fishing is certainly something we do here in Idaho. However, it is not nearly the religious experience it is in places like Minnesota. If you are spending time there, do bundle up and find a local to take you out on the lake for an hour or two. Although it is not the most exciting of winter travel activities, it is unique and if you catch a fish or two, you may have yourself a tasty dinner.


If you have never cross-country skied, snowshoeing may be a better option. Actually, it is a nice option even if you do ski. The trails are often shared with skiers, so you get to go the same beautiful places, but it is not quite as difficult—there is a much smaller chance of falling. It is also a good work out, but it is a little more low key. I find it easier to focus on the scenery around me when I am snowshoeing as opposed to cross-country skiing. It is also easier to pack snowshoes. When my friend in New York mentioned the possibility of snowshoeing, I did not hesitate to pack mine.

Friends snowshoeing at Bogus Basin in Idaho winter travel
Find some friends to go snowshoeing with.

Ice Skating

I am not terribly good at ice skating. But I do well enough to get by and have a good time when it is presented to me. My favorite experience was in Vienna, Austria. A friend and I had just arrived in the city one February and were busy acquainting ourselves with what the city had to offer. We had not gone far when we stumbled upon the Vienna Ice World (they transform Vienna Rathausplatz into a huge ice rink with ice paths that wind through City Hall Park). Yes please! We immediately found a place to rent some skates and then spent the next couple of hours gliding around with locals and tourists alike. At one point, it started to snow a little. Magical is really the only word to describe that winter travel experience.

ice skating Vienna Austral winter travel
A magical experience ice skating in Vienna, Austria.


If you are not a skier or snowboarder, many resorts offer tubing or sledding hills. Usually, a machine drags you up the hill in your tube, and then you pick a trail to ride down. It is a lot of fun and because a machine does all of the uphill work, it is not too exhausting. Of course, you can always sled the old-fashioned way by hiking up a hill and then riding your sled or tube back down. You get a great workout doing it this way in addition to having a good time. If you want to find the best place to go sledding, be sure to ask a local.

Dog Sledding

This is not something I have had the opportunity to experience just yet. However, I am looking forward to checking it off my bucket list one day—preferably in Finland. Regardless of where you experience dog sledding, it will be an experience you will not soon forget. And it is one not many people can say they have tried.


In Idaho, for whatever reason, we call snowmobiling sledding (e.g. let’s take the sleds out, what kind of sled do you ride, my sled got stuck on a cornice, etc.). I also know some folks that call it snow machining. Regardless of the name you use for snowmobiling, it is fun. Like, a lot of fun. It is a lot like riding a jet ski, but with more power and without the risk of drowning (although you could hit a tree). Renting one is usually pretty easy. Or find some locals and see if they will let you tag along. Just do not try to high mark on your first voyage.

Snowmobiles in Stanley, Idaho winter travel
“Sleds” lined up in Stanley, Idaho.

(Note: if you really want to try something fun and you have ridden snowmobiles before, rent a snowbike instead.)


Only once have I seen a curling competition. We arrived in our beloved Stanley, Idaho, one winter night and to our surprise, there was a curling competition going on. I will not lie, it was cold! And I had no idea what was going on. But it was a lot of fun and I would definitely go to another competition—especially if I was in Scotland. I also would not mind trying it myself, provided there were no people milling about that I might accidentally hit.

Curling night time in Stanley, Idaho
Cold but fun!

Winter Festivals

I have yet to attend a winter festival I did not like. I mentioned the Vienna Ice World earlier and soon R and I will be experiencing the Christmas markets in Belgium (so excited!). Some are more grand and some are more small town. Regardless, they make a lovely addition to winter travel. Here in Idaho, the McCall Winter Festival features snow sculptures, nighttime parades and snowbike races. It is a good time for all.

Hot Springs and Hot Tubs

My favorite time to sit in a hot springs or hot tub (known as a hot pot in Iceland), is when it is cold outside. I especially enjoy it if there is snow all around me. Yes, getting in and out is not much fun. But the actual soak is delightful and well worth the frantic time it takes to get in and out of the hot water. And nothing feels better after a day on the slopes than a nice soak in hot springs or hot tub.

There is a place in Stanley, Idaho, where guests can enjoy a natural hot springs with a view that is out of this world. You have to trek through the snow for a hundred yards or so, but the experience is so worth it. It is one of my favorite places in the whole world, especially during the winter.

Sawtooth Mountains winter travel Stanley, Idaho, elk
Beautiful Stanley, Idaho. Notice the elk next to the creek?

Visiting hot springs and pools in other countries is especially fun winter travel. The Blue Lagoon in Iceland had been on my bucket list for years. When I finally got to experience it, it did not disappoint at all. One thing I found very entertaining was sitting in that warm blue water while the lifeguards walked around in parkas.

Blue Lagoon, Iceland, lifeguard
At the Blue Lagoon in Iceland, lifeguards wear full winter gear.

Tips for winter travel:

  • Dress warm. There is no faster way to ruin a good time than being cold and wet. If you pack, borrow or rent the right clothes, you will not have to sacrifice a minute of your fun.
  • Consider renting. In my experience, it has always been cheaper and more convenient to rent skis than to check my own onto the airplane. This may not be the case if you are planning on skiing every day of a two-week vacation. Snowshoes, skis, poles, even snow pants, can all usually be rented for a fee that makes it not worth carrying them around.
  • Plan around your daylight hours. Winter means more than cold and snow, it also means shorter days. And although night skiing can be fun, if that was not part of your plan, you may be just a bit disappointed. Check your schedule and plan accordingly.
  • Take breaks. Hot chocolate does wonders when it comes to increasing your core body temperature. Plus, visiting various cafes and lodges is fun!


Winter is a wonderful time to travel—especially to cold-weather climates. It usually requires a bit more gear and a lot more clothes, but the experiences are one of kind and something you will not soon forget.

The Ins and Outs of Volunteering Abroad

The Ins and Outs of Volunteering Abroad

This week we are excited to have a guest author, my friend from grad school, Genevieve Brown. Like us, Genevieve enjoys traveling. Unlike us, she sometimes travels with a side of volunteering. We asked her to tell us a little bit more about volunteering abroad, 

Five Things To Do in Salt Lake City

Five Things To Do in Salt Lake City

Salt Lake City is not the most exotic location on the planet. However, there are plenty of fun things to do and see there. It is an especially good location to begin a trip out west. Due to its proximity to Idaho, it makes an 

What to do in Boston Depending on Your Length of Stay

What to do in Boston Depending on Your Length of Stay

Recently, R and I spent a day in Boston, Massachusetts. Now one day may not sound like much, but even a short amount of time in Bean Town is better than no time at all and I am going to share with you some tips on what to do in Boston based on your length of stay.

Captain Jackson's Boston Freedom Trail
R enjoying a piece of history on the Freedom Trail in Boston.

I love Boston. It is my favorite east coast city by far, and I always jump at the chance to visit. I was first introduced to the city back in high school. It was my first time to the east coast and although I have been back east many times now and have visited all of the major cities, Boston remains my favorite. And it is not just the city I love; the entire northeast is a beautiful part of this country with so much to do and see.

But back to the city itself…sometimes my visits are short, like this most recent one. Others are longer. Whether you plan to spend a couple of hours or a couple of weeks in Boston, there is no end of things to do. The city is swamped in U.S. history, great places to eat, and fascinating neighborhoods. Below are my suggestions for things to do, based on your length of stay.

One day in Boston

If you have only got one day, make sure you do the following:

1. Walk the Freedom Trail

Obviously, you must walk the Freedom Trail. It is a 2.5 mile path through downtown Boston passing by 16 historic locations. It is easy to follow. Simply look for the red line, marked with either brick or paint, that runs through the city. You can buy a map at the visitor’s center and even sign up for a tour, or you can do what we did and download a self-guided tour (there are several online). Most of the sites are free, but a few will charge admission. If you are short on time, you may have to pick and choose where to spend your time. The time it will take you to walk the entire trail depends on how much time you spend at each site.

I have enjoyed the Freedom Trail many times. Every time I walk it, I learn (or relearn) something new. It is a wonderful way to experience U.S. history as well as Boston. A word of warning: there will be tourists. Sometimes there will be a lot of them lining up and standing in your way. They are unavoidable. But if you visit the trail sometime other than the middle of the day, you will have better luck. Also, check out our post on tips for dealing with tourists.

Freedom Trail, Boston, red brick
If you look at the ground, you can see the red brick that makes the Freedom Trail. If you look at the top, you can also see R’s killer photography skills at work.

2. Eat clam chowder

I do not visit Boston (or the surrounding area) without enjoying a bowl of New England clam chowder. I do not have a favorite place I like to go. Being from Idaho, it all tastes good to me! But there are plenty of articles out there with recommendations for the best chowder in Boston. I just recommend you get some because it tastes so darn good.

Boston clam chowder
Eating New England clam chowder in Boston. Tasty!

3. Visit Faneuil Hall Marketplace

Yes, this place can be a little overwhelming. But there is always something happening at Faneuil Hall. There are shops and restaurants and you can even get a stamp in your National Parks Passport here. If you are short on time, you can find almost everything you need in this one location.

Two-three days in Boston

If you have got a couple of days, make sure to check off the above items, but then add on the following:

4. Catch a game

If you are lucky, the Red Sox will be playing a home game during your visit. Watching a game at Fenway Park is the ultimate Boston experience. There are also the Celtics and Bruins. Either would make for an entertaining experience, especially if the home team wins!

Boston Celtics stadium outside
A look at where some sporting entertainment can be found in Boston.

5. Explore Boston’s neighborhoods

Boston’s neighborhoods have distinct personalities and are worth exploring. Even though I could never afford to live there and I find it a tad pretentious, I love walking around the Back Bay and poking into its shops. The North End and Beacon Hill also make me very happy. And on this most recent trip, R and I discovered Charlestown while heading to Bunker Hill Monument (not following the Freedom Trail). We both commented on the cute houses and colors. It is only by walking around and exploring that you can fully appreciate the personalities of Boston’s neighborhoods.

Boston funny sign Freedom Trail
Funny sign while walking the bridges of Boston.

6. Tour the Samuel Adams brewery

Touring the Samuel Adams brewery seems apropos when one visits Boston, especially if you like beer. The tour is free, but they suggest a $2 donation to benefit local charities. Obviously, you must be 21. Tours last about one hour and they do not take reservations. I would avoid Saturdays is possible.

7. Eat at Cheers

Eating at Cheers is an incredibly touristy thing to do. But it is also a lot of fun and something I recommend you do at least once. However, try to visit the iconic Boston landmark during a slow time.

8. Get dessert in Little Italy

Boston’s North End, or Little Italy, hosts some of the city’s oldest buildings and is a maze of narrow streets. It almost feels like you have stepped back in time. You will walk right through it as part of the Freedom Trail, but it is worth some extra time if you have it. There are wonderful Italian restaurants, pastry shops and delis around every corner. It is one of my favorite neighborhoods in the city.

Boston historic cemetery
Visiting a historic graveyard in Boston.

A week or more in Boston

If you have a week or more, after you have accomplished everything above, you can get out of town and see the following:

9. Walk around Harvard University

It is easy to get from Boston to Cambridge—take the Red Line and ride it for 25 minutes. Harvard University is the United States’ oldest institution of higher learning. Established in 1636, this Ivy League school is one of the most well-known universities in the world. The campus in Cambridge is also really pretty. If the weather is nice, I definitely recommend a visit.

10. Take a train to another town

There are so many great towns just a train ride away from Boston and they make excellent day trips. Salem, Massachusetts, is one good example. Not only is the town adorable, but there is that whole witch trials event that took place there and the town features it well. Simply take the Newburyport/Rockport Line and 30 minutes later, you will be in Salem. If you want to explore a little further, stay on the Newburyport/Rockport Line and ride it to Rockport, Massachusetts. The town is surrounded on three sides by the Atlantic Ocean and hosts an array of Instagram-worthy photo opportunities. The train ride alone is worth the effort in my opinion. It will take a little over an hour, but you will move along the coast and travel through idyllic coastal towns like Manchester-by-the-Sea and Gloucester.

Whether you get out by traveling north, south or west (or east if you want to go whale watching or spend some time on the ocean), you will see some beautiful country and it will only add value to your trip to Boston.

Boston USS Constitution
Lots of history lessons to be had in Boston.


It you have not been to Boston yet, put it on your bucket list. If you have visited Boston before, put it back on your bucket list. There is so much to see and do there, it would take a lifetime to explore it all.

A couple of minor notes:

  • Boston is compact and very walkable, but wear good shoes. You will spend a lot of time on your feet.
  • Fall is my favorite time to visit Boston because the weather is perfect and everything is so beautiful. Boston experiences all four seasons. It can get very cold and it can get very hot. Be prepared for whatever time of year you will be traveling there. It rained the day R and I visited. Luckily, we had raincoats and umbrellas so the wet did not slow us down at all.
  • However, it is also a busy time to visit Boston. Thanks to the famous foliage, there will be many tourists. I guess you have the good with the bad.
Using Credit Card Points to Book Travel

Using Credit Card Points to Book Travel

One of the biggest impediments to travel is cost. Even though B and I have talked about how we don’t spend as much as you would think on our trips, travel still costs more money than staying at home. One way to keep travel costs 

10 Surprising Things about São Miguel Island in the Azores

10 Surprising Things about São Miguel Island in the Azores

R and I spent five and a half days driving around and exploring São Miguel Island in the Portuguese archipelago of the Azores. Locally, it is referred to as The Green Island. I just called it stunning. Turns out the Azores make a great micro 

Travel tech tools review

Travel tech tools review

See our travel tech tools review of five types of technology we used on a recent trip.

While travel is pretty basic (i.e. go somewhere new and see how it is), the tools we use while we travel are constantly changing. It seems like every trip we go on, there’s some new technological toy to try out. On our last trip to the Azores, we tested out five new ways to enhance travel. This post will review what these travel tech tools were and how valuable we found them.

iPhone 7+

B and I are iPhone people; we’ve both had several models over the years. My last phone was the SE. I got it because I liked the compact size that Apple came out with before all the phones got really big. However, I noticed that even though my model was newer than B’s or C’s, when we went on trips and stood in a line and took the same photo, their pictures turned out better than mine.

Other than picture quality, it was a fine phone and I used it for two years; however, as I was thinking about my upcoming trips this fall, I knew I wanted to have better pictures than what I was taking. I considered keeping my SE and purchasing a DSLR camera, but I really don’t like the idea of lugging around a big camera. My solution was to upgrade to the iPhone 7+.

iphones SE and iphone 7 plus travel tech tools review
Daddy and Junior

Big phone = big camera

This phone is big–it seems like it is about twice the size of my little SE. This is sad for several reasons. First and foremost, it doesn’t fit in my pocket or wallet. However, the reason the 7+ is so big is because it has a kick-ass camera built into it. This is because it has to be able to fit two lenses, so you can zoom into crazy detail without looking all pixelated. The other thing that it has is Portrait Mode, which uses the bokeh effect to make the focus of the picture sharp while blurring the background of the image. It is seriously cool.

Azorean pineapple travel tech tools review
Pineapple using the Portrait Effect

Another fun feature that has more to do with the new operating system than the phone is the ability to add video effects that make videos loop in funny ways, kind of like the Boomerang app, only it is already built into the phone.


10s across the board (at least as far as the camera goes, maybe an 8 on a phone basis)
Granted, the Azores are stunning. But the pictures I was able to take with my phone are gorgeous. Not all of them, but I fully believe that is user error and not the phone’s fault. (Just yesterday, I was watching a video and learned something new about using the phone’s camera that I probably should have already known.) While it has taken a while to get used to the size of the phone, I find that I forget about how big it is for the most part. And it was so nice to carry it around on the trip instead of a full camera. I’m glad I funneled my money to a fancy camera phone instead of to a fancy camera.

Azores travel tech tools review
Azores–using a sweet camera phone.


I had read about renting a portable hotspot while overseas instead of adding an international plan to a cell phone plan and opted to try it out while we were in the Azores. Since we were traveling only to Portugal, I decided to go with Portugal Internet. The way this works is I purchased a plan online prior to leaving. We went with a six-day plan that cost about $45. Portugal Internet offered two ways to get the mifi; they would mail it to our accommodation or we could pick it up at a post office. Since we were staying at an AirBnb and someone had to sign for it, we went with the post office pickup option.

This would have worked beautifully, except we arrived on a Sunday and the post offices are closed on the weekend. So we had to wait until Monday to pick it up. (There was a funny moment in the post office when the Portuguese-only speaking worker, who seemed pretty doubtful two white girl foreigners would have a package waiting for them, found the envelope. He gave us a thumb’s up, we cheered and the other staff all laughed.)

Mifi, pastries, and o.j.
Pastries, money, and internet. The MiFi is in the middle.

What it is

The mifi came fully charged and had a USB charger included in the envelope. We fired it up, connected to the wifi, and were in business. It had been pretty challenging to not have any sort of internet for a day and a half. (It wasn’t that long ago that being connected while traveling wasn’t a possibility, but these days it is more strange not to have internet than to have it. For better or worse, we are almost always plugged in.)

We were both able to connect to the mifi with all of our devices and had unlimited data. That is not to say we always had the internet. There were some places on the island that there was no service and some locations that had super slow connection. It was pretty frustrating at times, but overall, it was valuable to have. When we got to the airport to fly home, we put it in a pre-stamped envelope that came with the package and dropped it off at the airport post office. Easy, peasy.


3 of 5 stars
With the two of us splitting the cost, the price for a mifi was reasonable. And when it worked it was great…but it didn’t work all of the time. I will still probably look at getting a mifi in future foreign trips. But if the country has lots of free wifi, it might not be worth it.

Bluetooth Keyboard

I’ve talked about how important it is to keep a travel journal whilst adventuring. I hate writing in a journal, but the pros outweigh the cons. In an attempt to lesson the pain of actually writing, I brought a Bluetooth keyboard with me. Even when you are not connected to the internet, you can still have your Bluetooth turned on and use the keyboard.

I purchased this keyboard because it got good reviews, was pretty compact and had a good battery life (like months). Each night I sat down in front of my phone and tapped away using my giant phone as a monitor. It worked great and I was much less irritated while writing and didn’t have ink smudges on my hand when I was done…the burden of a lefty. As an added bonus, I typed directly into Google Docs, so I will always have this and won’t be able to lose it as it is saved on the cloud. It will also be easier to cut and paste the text into a journal or photo book.


6s, no splash
The only drawback of a keyboard is it is one more thing to carry around. They make little roll up ones so they are even more compact, but I didn’t mind the size of mine.

Google Translate

Google has some pretty impressive applications and Google Translate is a valuable tool on this list. Before we left the states, B and I both downloaded the Portuguese language so we were able to use it offline. While we were picking up the mifi, B pulled her phone out and tapped ‘pick up a package’ and showed the translated version to the postman. He figured out what we were looking for and understood.

google translate
Google translate working well

B heard about a cool feature on the Translate app that allows you to translate words in real time using the camera on your phone. As you view text using your phone, the app translates that text and your screen shows the words in another language. Pretty awesome in concept…not so successful in practice. We had some pretty entertaining translations that we just didn’t think sounded quite right…

Google Translate Tuna Azores
I’m not sure Google Translate got this one right. But it sure made for a good laugh in the grocery store.


The idea is really cool behind Translate and the type in version gets the point across (usually), but it is not 100%. You definitely don’t want to start using this for your Spanish homework assignments in school.

Mobile Passport

B and I both have Global Entry and feel it is worth every penny. However, there is a comparable option available and it happens to be free: Mobile Passport. It is an app that is officially authorized by U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Mobile Passport is available at most major U.S. airports and cruise ports, including Boston. B decided to test out Mobile Passport on our return to the U.S. from the Azores.

What it is

The app is easy to use. You first set up your profile which is done by scanning your passport (using your smart phone) and taking a selfie. That is it. After you arrive back in the U.S., you open the app, answer a few questions and follow the signs to the designated Mobile Passport lane. In practice, it is very similar to Global Entry. There is a separate line, but the automated machines look and act the same as the Global Entry machines. If everything goes as planned, you should sail through customs.

However, everything did not go as planned for B and she ended up with an X on her printout. That meant she had to go to a regular customs line and present a customs form, filled out by hand, just like everyone else. When that happened, there was no advantage what-so-ever to having Mobile Passport. I made it through customs much quicker and with a lot less hassle.


Split Decision
Mobile Passport is free and is better than nothing, but Global Entry is preferable. It may be worth having both just in case one line is a lot longer than the other.


Technology has revolutionized the way we travel and new gadgets and gizmos will continue to change it in the future. Some work better than others, but when they do work—man is it cool.

Top Five Things to See in St. Louis, Missouri

Top Five Things to See in St. Louis, Missouri

Last July, B and I ventured to St. Louis, Missouri, to attend the Antiques Roadshow. While there, we were pleasantly surprised by several attractions and left with a very positive view of this city, which, to be honest, we weren’t expecting much out of. This