A Lot of Travel, A Little Bit of History, and a Whole Bunch of Photos

Silver Lake Sand Dunes Panorama

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Wordless Wednesday: Skagway Pano

Skagway Panorama

Takeaways from my first Travel Show

Chicago Skyline

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This past weekend we took a last-minute trip to Chicago for their annual Travel and Adventure show. When I saw that Samantha Brown was speaking, I knew I had to go. Without much notice, we bought train tickets and reserved a hotel for the following weekend.

Samantha Brown at the Travel and Adventure Show

Samantha Brown at the Travel and Adventure Show

The Travel and Adventure Show features a few big-name speakers including the aforementioned Samantha Brown along with Brian Kelly (The Points Guy), Pauline Frommer, and Peter Greenberg of CBS News. At the Savvy Travel Theater, experts shared their tips and tricks to get the most out of travel and the Destination Theater highlighted trips that could be booked through the featured exhibitors. Hundreds of exhibitors shared information about destinations and allowed you to book your next trip right then and there.

While I enjoyed browsing the exhibits, some of the intense sales pitches were offputting. I much preferred the booths from locations that just shared their love of their town and encouraged you to visit over the travel agencies and timeshare salespeople who needed you to commit to booking a trip right then and there.

I like to think of myself as a savvy traveler who knows how to find deals, but I really did walk away from the show with some new tricks. Probably my favorite presenter (besides Samantha Brown, of course) was Russell Hannon the author of Stop Dreaming Start Traveling. He shared 99 tips to save money while traveling, some of which I was familiar with and I have shared with you, but many of them were new to me. For example, I had no idea you could get money back by buying Groupons through Rakuten. You can read many of his tips for yourself at BreaktheTravelBarrier.com.

One thing all of the experts at the show seemed to agree on was to use search engines to find the best price for a flight but to purchase airfare direct from the airline. With all the flight disruptions lately, you don’t want to have to go through an intermediary (like Expedia or a cruise line) if you need to get rebooked. Samantha Brown took it a step further and suggested that for each flight you take, you should have two backups so if the one you are booked on is canceled, you can call the airline and say “My name is Jane Doe and I was booked on flight 123 which was canceled can you rebook me on flight 147?” instead of having to wait in line to talk to customer service with everyone else.

They also all suggested downloading the airline’s app. While this lets you skip the desk if you don’t have to check luggage, it also gives you up-to-date information if your gate changes or if your flight is delayed (this was not our experience on Frontier, but more on that later).

For international travel, I learned that there is now a Mobile Passport app that allows you to use a much shorter line at customs if you fill out your information on your phone when you land. While this is available at most airports, I was disappointed to learn that the Detroit airport has not yet implemented it.

If you are like me and love getting new ideas from other people who love to travel, definitely check out the Travel and Adventure Show. There are several more around the country over the next few months. The speakers vary at each show. Samantha Brown will be at the New York Show. Rick Steves is coming to Los Angeles. Dates, locations, and pricing can be found at TravelShows.com.

Thanks for stopping by! To read about some of our previous trips, visit my Trips Page. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! For my list of gadgets to make your travels easier, click here. To see inside my camera bag, check out my updated Gear Page.

Wordless Wednesday: Fjord

Tracy Arm Fjord Black and White

Camping Straits State Park

Mackinac Bridge

For the Labor Day long weekend, we headed to one of our favorite campgrounds in Michigan, Straits State Park near St. Ignace. I got lucky and managed to score two waterfront sites for the holiday weekend since we had some family that was camping with us. Straits was the perfect home base since we were planning on walking the Mackinac Bridge on Labor Day. The campground is right next to the base of the bridge and even has a trail to the bridge walk for campers. From Straits, we also took day trips to Sault Ste. Marie, Mackinaw City, and Mackinac Island (more on those trips in upcoming weeks).

Mackinac Bridge at night from our campsite

The view of the bridge from our campsite

The first time we camped at Straits one of our neighbors walked up to us and told us that he thought we had one of the best views in all of Michigan State Parks and he is not wrong. Being able to see the Mackinac Bridge from the campfire at night is pretty special. The waterfront sites don’t have electricity, so in the past, it has limited them to just tents and popups, but with solar and battery technology, bigger rigs are utilizing them now, which makes them harder to get. It also makes the view from sites farther back in the campground not as good. I booked exactly 6 months in advance (on Fat Tuesday, to be exact) and I wasn’t able to get two sites next to each other, but the sites weren’t too far apart.

Even though it was a holiday weekend and the campground was full, it was a quiet, calm camping experience. We had the last site on the end which is actually very close to where the Bridge Walk starts in St. Ignace. We could hear the announcer and even the Lt. Governor giving his speech before the walk began as we were getting ready at our campsite. We had such a good time, we plan to do it again this year. I have my countdown going for when to book this year’s campsites. Maybe this year we will figure out a shortcut to get from the campground to the base of the bridge for the bridge walk!

Thanks for stopping by! To read about some of our previous trips, visit my Trips Page. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! You can purchase prints on Fine Art America. To see inside my camera bag, check out my updated Gear Page.

Wordless Wednesday: Del Morro Lighthouse

Lighthouse on Castillo San Felipe Del Morro

Camping at Traverse City State Park

Campsite at Traverse City State Park

With our love of Traverse City, it is surprising it took us this long to camp at Traverse City State Park. The previous summer we had camped nearby at Interlochen State Park, about 15 miles from Traverse City, but this year we decided to try out the park in the heart of the city.

Traverse City State Park is located just east of Traverse City in East Bay Township, across the street from all the bayside hotels. There is a pedestrian bridge that connects that campground to the beach on Grand Traverse Bay. This is a modern campground with several bathhouses and electric service at each site, some of which have 50 amps. For being a city park, the campsites are good sized but are lacking in privacy.

The campground is very close to Cherry Capital Airport so there is a lot of air traffic and early morning you can hear the jets warming their engines. It is also on a busy street with road noise pretty much 24 hours a day and it was near impossible to turn left out of the campground to head into Traverse City. I wouldn’t recommend this campground for tent campers unless you are a very heavy sleeper.

Old Mission Lighthouse

The Old Mission Lighthouse is a 30-minute drive from the campground

The best part of camping at Traverse City State Park is the location. It is about a ten-minute drive to all of the shops and dining in downtown Traverse City or ten minutes to the wineries on Old Mission. As mentioned above, the campground is just on the other side of Munson from the beachfront hotels, which can run over $300 per night in the summer. A campsite in the state park is only $45 for a summer weekend night, granted you have to bring your bed with you, but it is quite a savings to be in the middle of the action.

If you are looking for a campground close to Traverse City with beach access, look no further than Traverse City State Park. If you are looking for a quiet, private, nature-centered camping experience not too far from the city, I would recommend Interlochen State Park instead.

Thanks for stopping by! To read about some of our previous trips, visit my Trips Page. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! You can purchase prints on Fine Art America. To see inside my camera bag, check out my updated Gear Page.

2022: Year in Review

Pitons of St. Lucia

The Pitons of St. Lucia

2022 was once again an amazing travel year for us! We spent two weeks on cruise ships, many hours in airports, and saw many amazing things! We went both the farthest south and north that I have ever been and crossed off three more National Parks. This year travel felt like it was getting back to normal.

Unlike in years past, our first travels of the year didn’t come until the end of the first quarter with our port-a-day Southern Caribbean cruise on the Explorer of the Seas. We visited some of my favorite ports of any cruise we’ve taken and I have been watching flights to St. Maarten, St. Lucia (top), and Puerto Rico since we returned (we are actually heading back to Puerto Rico in the not-too-distant future). We got to snorkel in the pristine waters of Virgin Islands National Park and explore the oldest fort in the United States (bottom). 

Ship Sailing through Fog in Tracy Arm Fjord

Cruise ship sailing through fog in Tracy Arm Fjord, Alaska

Almost exactly two months after returning home, we got on another plane and headed to the Pacific Northwest. We explored Vancouver, which I have been dying to see for over ten years. From there we boarded another ship and headed north to four ports in Alaska. We got to see a glacier, bears, raptors, and whales, and ride a dog sled. It was an amazing trip but I feel like we barely scratched the surface of Alaska and I can’t wait to return and explore it some more. 

After getting off the ship, we took a bus back to Washington where we spent a week exploring all of the unique ecosystems of Olympic National Park. From the mountains of Hurricane Ridge to the Hoh Rainforest and more green than the brain can process, it was a week of exploring the outdoors. My favorite part would have to be Rialto Beach and the crazy rock formations coming out of the water. It was otherworldly.

Hoh Rainforst

One thing that ties our travels together this year is rainforests. We hiked in El Yunque in Puerto Rico and drove through the rainforest in St. Lucia and St. Kitts. We explored the temperate rainforest at Capilano Suspension Bridge in Vancouver and visited bears in the rainforest of Sitka. We hiked through the fascinating Hoh Rainforest in Olympic National Park (right). Near-constant rain and lush greenery seems to be the common denominator of 2022’s travels.

Of course, we took the camper out after returning from the PNW and spent some time at some new campgrounds and some old favorites (those stories coming in the next few weeks). The highlight of the summer in Michigan would have to be kayaking Pictured Rocks. That is something I have wanted to do since my first visit to the National Lakeshore and it was an amazing experience that I recommend to anyone!

San Juan National Historic Site

Since the summer, we have been pretty much at home, but more travels are coming soon! You will have to stay tuned to the blog to see what 2023 has in store for us! If all goes to plan it should be another amazing year of exploring this beautiful world!

Thanks for stopping by! To read more about this trip check out my Planes, Buses, and Boats Trip Report. To read about some of our previous trips, visit my Trips Page. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! You can purchase prints on Fine Art America. To see inside my camera bag, check out my updated Gear Page.

Kayaking Pictured Rocks

Kayaking towards Lover's Leap Arch

This past summer I got to do something that has been a dream of mine for over ten years, kayak Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. I have hiked the Lakeshore Trail and seen the rocks from the water on the boat cruise, but I have wanted to get up close and personal with the rocks since my first visit. So, when we were able to score a campsite at the lakeshore, I started doing my research for kayak tours.

Before I get into the tour, I want to talk a bit about Lake Superior and boating safety. Lake Superior is notoriously rough and can be dangerous if you are not in the proper boat. It is not recommended that you take a recreational kayak to see the rock formations. A sea kayak with a spray skirt is the recommended boat for this trip. If you are not a seasoned sea kayaker, it is best to see the rocks on a guided tour.

Pictured Rocks Kayaking Boat

There are many companies that offer tours of Pictured Rocks, but we decided to go with Pictured Rocks Kayaking (paddlepicturedrocks.com) for one main reason: they launch from a boat (left). Most of the tour operators launch from a beach in the park and you paddle from the beach out to the rocks and back. With the boat, Pictured Rocks Kayaking is able to take their guests out farther and allow them to paddle the most impressive rock features. The boat follows the tour and if someone needs to go to the bathroom or gets too tired, they are able to go back to the boat.  Also, if a storm blows in fast, they are able to get everyone back on the boat to safety.

As of 2022, Pictured Rocks Kayaking offers two tours, the shorter (2-3 hour) Miners Castle Tour which gets paddlers up close to the famous Miners Castle rock formation, and the 4-5 hour Ultimate Kayak tour. Being a bucket list experience, of course we chose the Ultimate Kayak Tour.

Paddling through a cave

Our tour started in Munising where we had a quick kayak basics and safety demonstration before getting on the boat for a 40-ish minute ride to the spot where you get in the water right from the boat. The water was unbelievably calm on the day we did the tour. You can see in the pictures, the water was like glass and it was a very easy paddle.

It was amazing how close we were able to get to the rocks. We paddle into caves and felt the water dripping from the rock above (above). We got to paddle under the iconic Lovers Leap arch (top). The tour ends at Chapel Rock where we headed back to the boat to eat our picnic lunch while the boat took us back to town.

Kayaking Pictured Rocks

My only complaint about the tour was the speed it went. As pretty avid kayakers (and experienced tandem kayakers at that) we had a hard time going as slow as the tour dictated. I understand that it is a long time on the water and we didn’t want to tire anyone out, but my back go sore sitting in the seat before my arms were tired.

If you are visiting Pictured Rocks and want to get out on the water, I highly recommend Pictured Rocks Kayaking.  You get to see more than other tours with the comfort and security of knowing the boat is there if you need it. Our guide was friendly and knowledgeable and gave great restaurant recommendations! I would absolutely take the tour again if I was in the area.

Thanks for stopping by! To read more about this trip check out my Planes, Buses, and Boats Trip Report. To read about some of our previous trips, visit my Trips Page. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! You can purchase prints on Fine Art America. To see inside my camera bag, check out my updated Gear Page.

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Camping Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Runaway Camper at Hurricane River Campground

With campgrounds in Michigan taking reservations six months in advance, it is about time to start thinking about where you want to camp next summer. So, I figured now would be the perfect time to recap some of my favorite campgrounds from last summer!

In 2022, the campgrounds at Pictured Rocks National Lakesure were able to be booked in advance for the first time ever. In the past, I never attempted to camp in the park because the stress of first-come, first-serve campgrounds is too much for me. But, about 5 months out, I looked to see what was still available and I grabbed the last open spot for the weekend in question. All of the campgrounds within the National Lakeshore are rustic meaning there is no electric, water, or sewer hookup and there are vault toilets. There is very minimal cell signal at the campground so do not plan to camp here if you need to be connected.

When I booked the site, it was very unclear to me if I was supposed to go somewhere to check in for our campsite or if I was supposed to print the confirmation email. On our second day, a range stopped by and asked for proof of our reservation. Now, as I’m looking at Recreation.gov, it says to print the confirmation page and hang it from the post at the site.

Au Sable Lighthouse

The site we managed to get was in Hurricane River campground which has 21 sites and is the location of the trail to the Au Sable lighthouse. The trail to the lighthouse starts at the campground and is 1.5 miles each way. It is a flat, easy trail and is a good way to get away from the crowds that can be seen in other areas of the park. In the summer, you can climb to the top of the lighthouse for a view. Check out the National Park Service website for information about times and cost.

2022 was also the first year that Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore charged an entrance fee. Personally, I think this was a long time coming. When we visited the Chapel trailhead in 2020 it was an ordeal to get a parking spot. While I’m not expecting this fee to reduce the visitation at the park, at least it will give the park some money to do upkeep and improve the facilities around the park.

Overall, we enjoyed our weekend camping at Pictured Rocks. We had a wonderful time kayaking in Lake Superior (more on that next week). I’m sure we will be back to this beautiful area in the future. If you are looking to camp at Pictured Rocks, the reservations fill up fast so plan to try to get your spot 6 months in advance at Recreation.gov.

Thanks for stopping by!To read about some of our previous trips, visit my Trips Page. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! For my list of gadgets to make your travels easier, click here. To see inside my camera bag, check out my updated Gear Page.

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Pacific Northwest Trip Recap

Clouds over Crescent Lake

Our trip to the Pacific Northwest this summer checked off two more states, one Canadian province, and two more national parks in an unforgettable nature-filled two week trek. We visited Seattle, Vancouver, Sitka, Juneau, Skagway, Haines, and the Olympic Peninsula.

I would love to take another Alaska cruise, but I think it would have to be on a larger ship. Sure, the Serenade can get into smaller ports that the big ships can’t, but there just wasn’t much going on during the sea days. I would look at ships that were purpose built for Alaska like the Norwegian Bliss that have more indoor areas for people to hang out on sea days.

Serenade of the Seas in Juneau

Cruise Ships in Juneau

I definitely want to explore different ports on my next Alaska cruise and I think I would look for a cruise that visits Glacier Bay. I’ve heard that park rangers get on the ship and talk about the nature. And it would cross off another national park! Ketchikan is another Alaska port I really wish we got to see!

I would definitely plan strategically if I ever cruise out of Vancouver again. I would make sure to pick the earliest check in time and arrive maybe even an hour before that. I might even look at cruises that start in Seward (Anchorage, Alaska) before looking at cruises out of Seattle.

Cruise ships in Sitka Sound

Cruise ships in Sitka Sound

You can call me crazy, but I would fly in/out of Seattle for a Vancouver cruise again. Amtrak is running the Cascades route again so the train is an option to get from Seattle to Vancouver again. Yes, it was two additional border crossings, but Quick Shuttle was easy and comfortable and honestly, you can’t beat the price of Greyhound. Is it my new preferred means of travel, no, but it got the job done!

I would definitely wait until later in the season to really get to explore Washington’s National Parks. I really don’t know if I can count visiting Mt. Rainier if I couldn’t see the mountain! I’ve been told the fog is less common later in the summer so that is when I would plan my return trip to the Pacific Northwest.

Hoh Rainforest

Hoh Rainforest, Olympic National Park

All-in-all, our 2-week Alaska cruise, Olympic National Park trip was another epic vacation! There were many firsts and experiences I can’t believe we got to do! Where will we explore next? You’ll have to stay tuned to find out!

Thanks for stopping by! To read more about this trip check out my Planes, Buses, and Boats Trip Report. To read about some of our previous trips, visit my Trips Page. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! You can purchase prints on Fine Art America. To see inside my camera bag, check out my updated Gear Page.

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