I was that girl that never had any savings. I did everything I wanted to…went out to nice restaurants and bars, went shopping, went to a bunch of music festivals every summer. This was all fun, but I straight up never had any extra cash floating around. When I decided to go to India for my first trip, I was forced to put a non-refundable deposit down. It wasn’t much, but from the minute I put that money down, I started to learn how to save money for travel.
After India, falling in love with both Cazzie and traveling, I was not about to give up my newfound obsession of seeing the world. Unfortunately for most of us, traveling requires money.
How do we do it? I’ve gotten that question time and time again. When we travel, we’re usually gone for months on end. People usually think we have some crazy money making scheme on the side. We don’t have endless supplies of money, or jobs that allow us to work remotely yet (holla at me if you’re hiring lol). Every time we’ve traveled, we do it the old fashion way. Save, save, save money for travel!
1 Set up a Budget: I cannot stress this enough. Put away a set number of earnings per month. Make it a habit. Every paycheck you get, pay your bills and then put a certain amount in a fund that you promise to yourself you won’t touch. A lot of banks have the option to automatically draft a certain amount of money from your account into a savings account. Do this. Seriously. You’ll thank yourself later when you’re sitting on a beach drinking mojitos not worrying about if you can order an extra one.
2. Cut out ANY and ALL Useless Expenses: This is a no-brainer. I know you think you need that new pair of shoes, or that that super nice dinner but guess what? You don’t. Get real with yourself about what you need vs. what you want. Easiest things to cut out are eating out, alcohol, shopping, and extracurricular activities. But you can also think about cutting cable bills and swapping for Netflix. Or opening the windows instead of turning on the air conditioning. We cook most of our meals at home, we stopped going to expensive trendy bars, and only buy things that we really think will be useful while traveling. If you get bored easily (guilty) buy a cheap cookbook and commit to cooking all the recipes in the book. It’s something to do, and you will save money for travel by not eating out. .
- 3. Shop the sales: If you really need something, try to find the cheapest option. I’m actually sort of addicted to looking through off-brand Amazon products and reading reviews to find something at same quality but cheaper. We got all of our camping gear this way! The marketing and advertising industries tell us that we need the best and newest model of every product. Sometimes the quality is unbeatable but also sometimes it’s super unnecessary. Also consignment shops are pretty sweet. You can find some awesome stuff at a heavily discounted price if it’s been used a couple of times.
- 4. Go Classic over Trendy: This is for all my shoppers out there. I’m pretty guilty of buying trendy outfits, wearing them a couple times until the trend falls out, and then having it sit in my closet for years. Don’t do this! Not only is fast fashion killing the planet, it’s hard on your wallet. Yes, everyone needs to have a couple trendy pieces in their wardrobe. But try to buy things that will last. Patagonia has a lifetime guarantee policy where they will take back any of their clothing items that have been damaged, repair them, and send them back to you. This makes it easy to buy something from them, because you’ll have it for life. I have a similar jacket to the one below, and it rolls up into itself for easy traveling too!
5. Sell your Stuff: Alright, if you can pack your entire life into a backpack and leave everything else behind…do you really need that stuff you left behind? Like c’mon. Sell that stuff! If you don’t need it for 6 months, you probably don’t need it. Ebay, Facebook Marketplace, OfferUp, and LetGo are magical and it’s endless amounts of people looking for exactly what you have. Even if you only make $100, that’s $100 you didn’t have before.
I know it’s hard. That’s why most people don’t do it. But if it’s worth it to you, then you’ll find a way to save money for travel! I hate giving up shopping and my nice dinners…but I also hate not traveling. For all my frugal backpackers and travelers out there, here’s to you and here’s to traveling. For everyone else, start to save money for travel now, and go on that dream trip!
As the leaves change into vibrant reds, yellows, and oranges, the best place to view them is from the mountains. We recently spent the weekend at Chetola Mountain Resort in Blowing Rock, North Carolina and it’s safe to say that this is one of the prettiest places we’ve stayed.
As you enter the grounds, you’ll be taken around a small lake by a winding road lined with beautiful trees. In the fall, the lake reflects the trees tinged with the colors of fall, and at night it reflects the festive lights of the resort. As we neared reception, we were amazed at how much land is a part of Chetola Resort. There are roads that go off in many directions from the main road, up to condos and private homes.
We were greeted by a kind hotel staff who checked us in without a hitch. He then offered us a map of the grounds, explained how we were to navigate to our condo, and gave us a rundown of the services provided by the resort.
Some of the onsite amenities include a fitness center, pool, spa, multiple restaurants, and arranging of activities in the area such as fly fishing trips. There is a Sporting Range on the grounds, with the opportunity to shoot clay pigeons or practice archery. If we had more time, I would have definitely rented a bow and arrow for $20 a person!
The resort holds activities for guests as well, and on our first night there they were hosting a bonfire. I believe that there are also events that take place in the bars and restaurants such as happy hours, but we did not attend.
As we reached our condo that we had rented, we were amazed at how spacious it was. We had a full kitchen, two bedrooms, and a living area with a fireplace. It would have been more than enough room for a family to share, and for just us two, it was very large. The condo was decorated with typical mountain decor, and it had the feel of being like a home rather than living in a hotel. Free Wi-Fi was also included, which is always necessary for us.
Walking Distance to Downtown
One of the best parts about Chetola Mountain Resort though, was the proximity to downtown. We saw many similar mountain resorts, but these were all farther away from the downtown area. We were easily able to walk downtown, and we observed many other guests doing the same. Blowing Rock is notorious for their horrible parking. It’s definitely even more hectic in the fall with everyone trying to view the leaves. By following the serene walking path that circles the lake, you will be downtown in 10 minutes.
All in all, I was very impressed with the quality of Chetola Mountain Resort. Their grounds are fabulous and well maintained, and the rooms were comfortable and sparkling clean. The resort gave us more options for activities than we had time. It is a five minute drive from the Blue Ridge Parkway and hikes, and a short walk into downtown. It truly made for the perfect weekend in Blowing Rock.
Before we went to Cuba, we had heard mixed reviews of Trinidad. Yes, it’s beautiful and the pictures will attest to that. However…is it really worth the visit when there are other “more authentic” cities that beg to be visited?
Trinidad lies a couple hours south of Havana on the glittering Caribbean coastline. Most people (including me before I went) recognize this city for its beautiful but crumbling yellow bell tower that graces the cityscape, but there is truly much more hidden in the streets of Trinidad.
The colonial city just renovated much of their historic city square in preparation for their 500 year anniversary in 2014, which means everything is looking fantastic! The city takes pride in its beauty, and the citizens of this city definitely know they live in one of most beautiful areas of Cuba. The old colonial square reeks of old Cuban wealth with ornate buildings, garden terraces, and cobblestone roads.
I wouldn’t feel right without telling you that Trinidad is by far one of the more touristy places we have been, especially in Cuba. The once colonial houses near the center of town now have all been converted to glamourous casas, high end restaurants, or shops selling Cuban trinkets. There are countless street markets here that sell all sorts of tourist knick-knacks, including cigars and rum. If you’ve ever been to a cruise ship port, it definitely has that feel to it.
If you can get past that, and look to the beauty and history that Trinidad possesses, you will be transported back in time. And while the tourism touts can be a bit tacky, there is an authenticity in the city if you know where to look. Don’t be surprised to see a fisherman selling his catch of the day in the main square, oblivious to the tourists using Wi-Fi on the church steps.
The Yellow Belltower
As we were wandering the streets being plied by the many touts offering expensive excursions, we opted instead to pay the $1CUC per person to get into the old bell tower. Skip the museum because it’s not that great, but walk up to the bell tower and take in the view of Trinidad sprawling below you. The clay tiles on the roofs, in combination with the views of the mountains and seas are enough to make you fall in love right then and there.
Walk past the Plaza Mayor to get lost in the barrios where the actual people live. This is where the true magic lies. Once out of the city center and the tourist district, normal life for the Cuban people resumes. Find women gossiping on their door stoops, men playfully bantering, and little brothers getting picked on by their older siblings. Everyone’s door is open, sticking true to the Cuban mentality of community.
Another fabulous reason to visit Trinidad is the glittering Caribbean beaches that are 14KM from city center. Rent a bike if you’re up for a sweaty ride, or take a taxi and relax on Playa Ancon. The beach is a tad dirty, but the water is beautiful and feels fantastic.
We did witness quite a number of scams happening on Playa Ancon. With this beach being the major beach that tourists frequent, there seemed to be a group of 3 or 4 men that knew they could rip people off pretty easily. Don’t pay for a beach chair unless you absolutely know the person you are talking to works for the hotel. Even at that, I would go into the actual hotel to pay for a chair rather than give my money to a random guy on the beach. Also do NOT pay ridiculous prices for the coconuts or pizzas they are selling. Be aware, and don’t encourage that type of swindling.
If you’re feeling like Playa Ancon was a tad bit too resort like for you, head to La Boca 4KM away. We came here on a Saturday and this place was a party. There were people selling pizzas for the normal price of 10 CUN (which is about 40 cents), pina coladas for 5CUN, and all sorts of rum drinks for the equivalent of less than 50 cents USD.
EVERYONE here was turning up. Walking around with rum bottles, hitting on all the hunnies, and in general just having a great time. We found the one sit down restaurant in the whole town, and while it was decent…I would just stick to the street food found on any corner. The beach was trashed and rocky, but La Boca is still well worth a visit. There are cute little casas quite literally on the Caribbean seafront in La Boca if you choose to stay, but we chose to head back to Trinidad.
Valle de los Ingenios
We drove through the Valle de los Ingenios on our way into Trinidad, and were amazed at how beautiful this place was. We didn’t know much (or anything) about Cuban landscape before traveling through the country, and we were taken by surprise. The Valle de los Ingenios is old sugar plantation land, and this Valle still has the sugar mill ruins to prove it.
While the history is fascinating, the views are stunning. The rolling green hills used as pastures for cattle give way to jagged blue mountains in the back. It’s easy to forget you’re on an island in the middle of the tropical Caribbean while driving through this countryside.
If nightlife is what you’re after, head over to Casa del Musica on Plaza Mayor. Every night the stairs that are empty during the day turn into a giant salsa party, with elderly Cuban couples stealing the show. There’s usually a range of skills, so don’t be shy if you want to test out your dancing. It seemed as if young Cuban men were more than willing to take a gringa up there for a twirl! Cover here was $1CUC per person.
There’s seriously countless places around Plaza Mayor to hang out in if you’re looking for something to do either during the day or late night. The prices in the restaurants can be a little steep, but no where we found charged more than $2CUC per beer. While everyone offers them, pizzas can range in quality and price, so beware of paying that $4CUC (or more) for a pizza. However, at night a lot of places around the main square will sell drinks for $1.50CUC, which is a great deal.
We splurged one night on a rooftop terrace sunset meal at Obbaiala Restaurante. Still with drinks, two meals that included soups and starters, and a gorgeous view of the sun setting over Plaza Mayor, we were under $25CUC. There was also a funny pug running around at your feet, which made it all the better. I would highly recommend this place to any one in Trinidad.
Other than that, we found fantastic places at Bar Cuba Libre, an old Spanish slave jail turned into a restaurant, La Casa del Cerveza, an old theater that collapsed in 1902 that is now a beer garden. Giroud, a funky café with old TVs as chairs and shipping pallets turned tables. There was a place called Restaurant San Jose that quite literally ALWAYS had a line around the corner, but we didn’t stop and wait to try ourselves.
Trinidad is a gorgeous city, full of old charm and a well-kept colonial atmosphere. While we do wish it was toned down a little and had less overt tourism on every corner, it is still a city worth visiting on a trip to Cuba. Even with the over-the-top tourism industry, the romantic views of the mountains over the colonial streets are hard to beat. It’s just one of those places that you have to visit, you’re glad you did, but you also can’t wait to leave.
Let us know what you think below! Would you visit Trinidad while on a tour of Cuba?
When we first landed in Havana, we didn’t quite know what to expect. I mean the old cars, the colonial buildings and what we had seen in pictures, we knew…but we had no idea what it would actually be like. The people, the sights, the sounds, the food we were so curious about, that we couldn’t wait to start discovering Havana, Cuba for what it really was.
For starters, Havana, Cuba is divided into three basic neighborhoods: Habana Vieja (Old Havana), Centro Habana, and Vedado. Each has their own distinct personality, each is worth your time, and each is full of vibrant Cuban life.
We chose to explore on foot through the different neighborhoods, and walking through the streets were the times I felt most immersed in Cuban culture. Here’s where we watched as families who lived on the third floors used pulley systems to raise up groceries. Or gazed on as lovers flirted with each other, unaware of the world’s presence. Or witnessed men fixing their cars while their sons watched on and learned. The best thing about Cuban streets? There’s always something going on.
Side Note: If you are planning on traveling to Cuba, definitely bring a map of the different cities, or download maps.me before you leave. We forgot and it was devastating and you won’t be able to download it while you’re there.
As we made our way more into the tourist sector also known as Old Havana, the buildings got nicer, the restaurants got more expensive and the cars were more well kept.
The casa particulares here were more boutique hotel rather than someone’s home, and the colonial grandiosity is hard to miss. What once was, still is, in parts of Old Havana. Restoration projects making sure to not let the history go to waste. And while some parts of Havana may seem to be crumbling, Old Havana is not.
The Plaza de la Catedral and Plaza Vieja are unmissable. Each cobblestone plaza has restaurants, cafes, and bars inhabiting the first floor of the outer buildings. Listen to Cuban rooted live music, eat delicious European inspired pastries, and drink a coffee creation that is sure to jolt you awake. We spent a good amount of time in the plazas, simply enjoying the moment and people watching our days away.
The Havana Catedral is open to the public, but they understandably ask tourists to be respectful. Cover your shoulders, wear respectful pants, and take off your hats if you are entering the place of worship. The building with the tall archways in the corner of the plaza is the beautiful Casa del Marqués de Arcos. During the daytime hours, it is open to the public with no charge. Wander around the grand halls, taking in period art and a peek into the past lives of Havana’s elite.
Our favorite place to hang out in Old Havana was a place on Plaza Vieja. And you guessed it…it was a brewery! If you’re like us and got a little bit tired of Cristal and Independente, this was a nice change of pace. It’s also a great restaurant, with fantastic chicken skewers and a bomb looking burger.
If you’re ready for some more touristy fun, head down Obista Street. Full of markets, bars, and shops selling more Che items than you ever knew existed, it’s a fun walk through although extremely hectic.
At the end of Obista, you will find La Floridita. While the drinks here are $6 rather than the usual $3, this place is an experience. Famous for inventing the Daiquiri, and being the regular hang out of the one and only Ernest Hemingway. Someone told us that Hemingway’s personal record was 12 double daiquiris in one sitting. That’s damn impressive! Good luck finding a seat in here though, because it’s always crowded.
Veer away from the tourist traps a little bit, and you’re likely to find yourself entering Centro Habana. Much more laid back, much more local feeling, and much less kept up, Centro Habana is sure to entertain all five senses.
Havana’s Chinatown is located in the midst of Centro Habana, which is funny because there are very few Chinese people. We saw one, to be exact. However, the restaurants dole out huge portions of low mein and chop suey, are mostly located in air conditioning, and are pretty cheap for what you’re served. Plus if you love vegetables as much as I do, the Chinese restaurants were the only places I got generous helpings of greens.
Sociedad Cheng Restaurant was a great place we stopped in to. This place offered up excellent service and even better food. Order a Limon Clarete– it’s lemonade with wine and it’s delicious! Avoid the Chinese restaurant mentioned in Lonely Planet…it’s overpriced and tacky.
Of course, any trip to Havana should incorporate a sunset on the Malecon. Our favorite portion of the Malecon was the stretch belonging to Centro Habana. Sit on the wall, stare out at the ocean, and watch the sun fall behind the city. There’s no better way to end the day.
Head even a little bit farther west, and you’ll reach the neighborhood of Vedado. This is where our casa particular was located, so we became pretty familiar. It’s a decent distance from Old Havana, but it’s still walkable if you have the energy. If anyone is wondering where we stayed, we found it through Hostels Club in a place called Casa de Oralia. Oralia was as sweet as could be, and her apartment had a gorgeous terrace to enjoy as well.
Vedado was the most “real” version of Havana we witnessed. We walked alongside men going to work, children playing in the streets, and in general people just going about their lives. No one cared about tourists. There weren’t any annoying people in your ear trying to sell you this or that. People were just living.
Walking around in Vedado near the University was where we found some of the prettiest houses in Havana. We were strolling Avenida Paseo and just stumbled upon the most gorgeous little houses with these overflowing patio gardens. How could this beauty be so close to the narrow and dark alleyways of Old Havana?
Of course, the famous Riviera Hotel is in Vedado. From the outside, it doesn’t seem like anything special…but from the inside it’s magnificent. Not to mention, good old Frank Sinatra played a concert here for the mob once. Quite the history!
We stopped in what ended up being my favorite place to eat in Havana while walking around Vedado. La Casona de 17 served up some of the biggest helpings of food I’ve ever seen, and it was delicious. Due to a tiny bit of miscommunication on our part, we both ended up with giant heaping bowls of yellow rice, chicken, and peas, with a creamy sauce that was to die for. I forgot about everything while just immersed in my delicious food.
The Plaza de la Revolución is located on the very opposite side of Vedado than the University, and I’m not really even sure if it’s worth a visit. Not my favorite place, but if you’re trying to find the iconic building with Che’s face on it…here it is. If you have to pay for a taxi to get out here, just know it’s a “take a selfie and leave” type of situation.
Also located in Vedado, but somewhere we weren’t able to go is Fabrica de Arte. This is a super cool art gallery/bar/trendy hangout place for both locals and tourists. They have wonky hours though, and are only open on weekends. If you’re in town while it’s open though, we have heard only fantastic reviews.
That about sums up our advice on discovering Havana, Cuba. My advice: get out and walk around! That’s how you’ll find everything you think of Havana as having.
Old cars, cigars, mojitos, and brightly colored colonial buildings.
The crumbling streets full of life, bustling cafeterias that everyone converges on for breakfast and lunch, or the sound of pick up soccer games outside your window.
Cuba is utterly indescribable. The country is wholly bewildering, insanely gorgeous, and completely captivating. The Cuban people have taken us into their homes, showed us amazing hospitality, and offered a semi-snippet into Cuban culture.
It’s been hard for us to internalize Cuban way of life.
On one hand, you have the new influx of tourism and private enterprises that are completely changing people’s lives. In a country where the average monthly wage is $25 a month, renting rooms or converting your house to a restaurant is a great way to make much coveted extra money.
Cuba is a country that is still struggling to figure out a way to exist in the shadow a major world power completely blocking their economy from prosper. While they do have many successes, they also have extreme censorship, lack of internet access, and some questionable human rights practices.
We talked many times about the embargo, politics, and the future of Cuba while we were there. Not only did we talk about it amongst ourselves trying to piece together an opinion, but we spoke about it with the many Cuban people we met along the way.
There truly is no black and white answer. If the United States lifts the embargo, will it make Cuban life any better for the average citizen? There are people who think so. And most Cuban citizens are predictably in support of ending the embargo in the hopes of a better quality of life.
I’ll tell you what I do know.
The buildings and infrastructure of Cuba are struggling. What were once beautifully ornate buildings and glamourous architecture are now often times crumbling reminders of what once was.
Education is completely free. For as long as you would like to attend. Cuban literacy rate is one of the highest in the world. After you graduate though, you’re subjected to the same $25 wage that everyone else is.
Healthcare is also completely free. The Cuban government views it as a basic human right that should be afforded to all citizens. Long lines at clinics and lack of resources can be an issue though.
Poverty, while widespread, wasn’t what we have been accustomed to seeing in many other countries we’ve visited. It seemed that we saw less homelessness, less begging, and a less malnourished population as a whole. It seemed that while poor, Cuban people are better taken care of than many other countries.
While the government might subsidize many things for Cubans, shortages are common. We witnessed lines that stretched around corners for both food and appliance stores. Store shelves were often empty. And if a place had things like water one day, they might not have it the next.
The Cuban sense of community is so much stronger than what we’ve witnessed before. It’s seen as a neighborly duty to help someone in need. Even the barrio dogs there are well fed and taken care of.
Not once did we fear for our safety. Crime, especially violent crime, is extremely low. Even in the ghettos of Havana, we were never frightened that we would be mugged…or worse.
There is a strong support by many for the current government. We expected people to be outspoken, and vehement in their dislike. However, we met many people that were 100% in support for the Fidel brothers and thought of Che as a national hero.
There were also those that disagreed with what the government has done to the country. Most were frustrated with the lack of opportunity and access to the international community, and disappointed with the state of disarray of many of the countries resources.
I won’t pretend to know what the right answer is for the Cuban people in the political sphere. I believe that freedom of press and non-restricted internet access should be basic rights for all people. And I definitely believe that President Trump’s reinstatement of a inane travel ban is pointless.
I do know that we will return one day. Cuba, you have won our hearts.
Western North Carolina can also be described as the “Land of Waterfalls,” due to the 250+ waterfalls that grace it’s landscape. We’re huge waterfall chasers, and we spend most of our free time plotting our next waterfall adventure. Lucky for us, there’s plenty to choose from. Here’s a list of the 7 best North Carolina waterfalls.
1. Looking Glass Falls
This easily accessible waterfall is located in the Pisgah National Forest outside of Brevard. And by easily accessible, it’s right off the side off the road! This makes it the perfect place for picnics, families, and summer time hanging out. The summer in the south can get hot, so cool off with a swim in the waterfall’s splash pool. It can get crowded, but there are plenty of waterfalls in the area that require a hike if you prefer less people.
2. Crabtree Falls
This wonderful waterfall requires a bit of a hike, but is worth the effort. The hike is not too strenuous or long, but can be turned into a loop to add about 1.5 miles onto it. The trail meanders its way downhill through a wonderful forest until reaching the waterfall base, at which you can continue across the base on the bridge for the loop trail. I personally love the way the water looks cascading down the rock wall, as it isn’t a full steady stream but rather breaks into many tiny streams due to the uneven rock face before meeting again at the base. The trail head can be found off the Blue Ridge Parkway, 41 miles north of Asheville. This is truly one of the best North Carolina waterfalls, and it’s proximity to Asheville makes it easy to get to.
3. Linville Falls
Linville Falls is maybe one of the best known in the area, and is a great day trip from many different areas in the state. Better yet, after the hike the gorgeous Linville Falls Winery is a 5 minute drive away. Linville Falls has a couple of different options for hiking, and there’s about 4-4.5 miles of trail in the park. There’s five different view of the falls: the top of the falls, the base of the falls, two upper views of the falls, and view of the plunge basin on the opposite side of the base trail. Watch out for Parkway closures which will make getting to the falls difficult, but head to the National Forest Parking Area in the event the Visitor Center lot is closed. Located off the Blue Ridge Parkway at milepost 316.4, it’s an easy drive from Asheville, or Morganton.
4. Mingo Falls
This waterfall is similar in look to Crabtree, but is a little bit of a trip to get to from most major cities. Located on the Cherokee preservation and a 15 minute drive from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, it’s a wonderful addition to any trip to the area. The trail is well maintained and there are actual stairs to climb the entire time rather than raw trail. After a quick 10 minute hike you reach a wooden platform at the base of the waterfall. The area that the waterfall is in is owned by the Cherokee Native Americans, so if you’re looking for activities before or after your trip to the waterfall, there is a museum, tourist shops, or a massive casino nearby. And then there’s the obvious one, The Great Smoky Mountains National Park which has free admission 100% of the time.
Sadly I don’t have a picture of this one, because it was pouring rain and we decided to sprint from the car to the lookout.
5. High Shoals Falls
This is a personal favorite of Cazzie and I’s, mostly because we live 25 minutes from the South Mountain State Park where the falls are located. The entire park is very well maintained and the High Shoals Falls hike is extremely well built and preserved. There are stairs that will take you up the steep sections, but the climb can get intense due to the steady increase of the trail. There will be a set of mini falls before you reach the actual waterfall, but these are gorgeous as well. Once you reach the falls, there’s a wooden viewing platform and swimming is not allowed. Continue up the stairs just a little farther to get to the loop or more trails.
South Mountain suffered from some pretty severe forest fires last fall, and effects of these fires can be seen in the forested areas of some trails, with some trails still being closed. Just a friendly reminder to always put out your campfires. 🙂
6. North Harper Creek Falls
Located in Wilson’s Creek of the Pisgah National Forest Grandfather Ranger District, this waterfall requires an easy 1.2 mile hike to the falls. The hike is a beautiful representation of Pisgah, with rhododendron forming arching walkways and the sun peeking through the dense forests. The trails in Wilson’s creek can be combined to make a much longer hike, a back country camping trip, or simply just a day full of waterfall chasing. There are at least 7 waterfalls located in Wilson’s Creek area, so exploring here will definitely keep anyone entertained. If you would like more information about Wilson’s Creek area, check out our adventures here.
7. Catawba Upper/Lower Falls
Another short but sweet hike will lead you to the Lower Catawba Falls. This waterfall is best enjoyed after a nice rain because the water will be flowing and everything will be lush. The hike is mostly level but climbs in elevation as you lead up to the lower falls. You’ll have to scramble up some fallen rocks in the path as well! To get to the Upper Falls, it’ll be quite the trek up hill. Be extremely careful, most of the rocks are covered in moss and are very slippery!
DISCLAIMER: We haven’t been to every waterfall that’s out there. We will update this list as we see fit! There’s still so much exploring to do, and we are still working our way through the state. If you want more waterfall information, Romantic Asheville has an amazing collection!
Asheville is full of wonderful things to do, but if you’re in the area and miss out on going to the Biltmore Estate… you’re not doing it right.
It was my first time visiting the Biltmore Estate and while Cazzie has been before, it was his first time in quite awhile. We planned on spending a couple of hours there during the day and then head camping later at night, but ended up throwing all our other plans away to stay longer. And it was well worth it!
If anyone says that the United States doesn’t have royalty, this estate stands proof to the contrary. Built by George Vanderbilt with construction starting in 1889 , this estate is testament to the standing of his family in the hierarchy of the development of America. The family’s wealth came from Cornelius Vanderbilt, who built railroads across the United States, and was a shipping mogul. As a third generation Vanderbilt, George was still the richest man in the United States at the time of his death.
Walking up to the house felt so immensely surreal, knowing that an entire family once called this enormous estate their home. It stands like a castle, overlooking the never ending waves of the Blue Ridge Mountains on one side, and an endless forest and gardens on the other.
It took six years to build, has 4 acres of floor space, and is still considered the largest private home in the United States. The house has:
- a whopping 250 rooms and 65 fireplaces
- a personal bowling alley
- a very creepy basement swimming pool
- an entire house wing just for the bachelor’s including separate gun, cigar and billiards rooms
- a massive library that houses only half of the 22,000 books that George owned with books in 8 different languages
- a formal dining hall complete with three fireplaces, a seven story high ceiling, and rare Finnish tapestries
- Two electric elevators in a time when most people didn’t have electricity
- A walk in fridge that housed food for the entire house
You might recognize the Biltmore Estate from a bunch of different encounters with the silver screen. Hollywood has recognized it as a great place to film, and the Biltmore has hosted movies such as Forest Gump, Richie Rich, Hannibal, Patch Adams, and The Last of the Mohicans.
There was no expense spared in the building of the Biltmore Estate. This guy had it all. Not only was he extremely philanthropic as well, but he was the first United States landowner to implement scientific forestry. He improved the health of the forests on his 125,000 acre grounds, while also producing sustainable wood resources from his property. After his death, his widow sold 87,000 acres of land to the United States government…which is now a good portion of Pisgah National Forest.
My kinda guy!
True to the historic legacy of the Biltmore House, these sustainability standards are still in the works today. Due to Biltmore’s projects in solar energy and tree protection, the city of Asheville has honored the Biltmore Estate with an award for their strides in staying green. Go Biltmore!
After touring the house, which will take about one or two hours, spend time exploring the Conservatory and surrounding gardens. There are adorable wrought iron tables and benches scattered throughout the Conservatory, and we enjoyed a freezing cold iced tea before venturing off into the heat again.
From the Conservatory, you can head to Antler Village, which I highly recommend! There will be a sign for a waterfall along the way, but it’s actually a dam and it isn’t that amazing, so I wouldn’t stop if I were you.
Right now until the end of August there’s a stunning sunflower field that lines the road from the House to Antler Village. There are biking trails, hiking trails, walking paths, and picnic spots all along this road as well. Honestly, the Estate is really just a giant playground for history lovers, outdoor lovers, and lovers of all things of taste.
Antler Village is where the Winery is, along with the Biltmore farms. There are goats and chickens in an enclosure and you bet we stopped to pet them. You’re not able to feed them, but the caretakers are standing on call to ask any questions you may have. If you’re lucky, you’ll be there during feeding time and can watch the goats headbutt each other away from their food. Territorial little buggers.
With your tour of the house, you will receive a complimentary wine tasting. They say they recommend you try 5-6 wines, and they’ll give you facts about the grapes and differences in wine while you’re tasting. I actually learned quite a bit, and Cazzie even found a red he likes! Even if it was the most expensive bottle they had… Baby steps.
Since I moved to the mountains of North Carolina, people have been asking if I’ve been to the Biltmore House yet. I sort of shrugged them off and thought “it’s just an old house, how cool can it be?” I WAS SO WRONG. It’s seriously one of the better “touristy” things I’ve done. So much awesome history, and it just makes it all better that George Vanderbilt was a stand up guy.
Last weekend, we headed back to my old stomping grounds to celebrate our engagement with my family. For those of you who don’t know, I’m originally from outside the magnificent city of Chicago. While I will always treasure my time there, ultimately the winters were too harsh and I was forced to flee to warmer weather.
Chicago in the summer is truly magical. After the long, freezing cold winter, the people of Chicago come out of hibernation and celebrate the three good months of the year…and they know how to celebrate.
While the actual city of Chicago is huge, their public transportation system is one of the best in the world. Fondly called the “El,” or Elevated train, the system will take you essentially everywhere around the city you need to go. And it’s generally clean!
Most of the favorite tourist attractions are located in the Loop, or the centrally located grouping of skyscrapers that the El makes a loop around. Get it? Clever, huh.
I recently was asked create walking city maps on Walkli.com. This website is a great way to see how other people toured a city by walking, and different routes are uploaded by different users. It’s pretty cool! If you’re more interested on the route we took to tour downtown Chicago, click here to their website to see it!
We started near the Willis Tower, or what was once formally known as the Sears Tower. Growing up, this was the tallest building in the world for a little while. For some odd reason, I still harbor a little bit of pride for that fact.
Next up on the list of “must-sees” for Chicago is Millennium Park and the famous “Bean” art piece. Quite literally a giant metallic bean, the park is in the forefront of the Chicago skyline. It creates quite the scene, and draws quite the crowd.
A nice stroll around Millennium Park on the path will take you further from downtown into Maggie Daley Park if you wish. Most of the time the grass is closed around the music pavilion, but if you’re in town for a night that they’re holding a concert or movie, definitely bring a blanket and picnic!
From Millenium Park, it’s an easy walk down the glitzy Michigan Avenue to the Chicago Riverfront walk. The river walk is truly one of my favorite parts about the city.
There are tons of super cute restaurants along the River Walk. City Winery is a great place to stop and cool off from the sun! They also have live music if you check their event schedule.
Part of the fun of the River Walk is to gawk at the giant yachts that pull in and out of the harbors. Seriously….how can I get one? If you’re into boats and want to take one out on the lake for the day, you can rent one from various rental places around downtown. Half the fun of having a city on a lake should be being on the lake, so take advantage!
Trump Tower is also visible from the River Walk. The City of Chicago currently has an art installment that “is not a political statement in any form,” but you can judge for yourself. I personally love it.
Be sure to walk out on one of the bridges. Dearborn is one of my personal favorites. The view of the river and the buildings towering over you is gorgeous. The Dark Knight was filmed in Chicago, and the bridges give Chicago that eerie feeling of Gotham City.
Don’t miss the iconic Chicago Theater. Built in 1921, this grand theater has a dazzling marquis and is host to many live events. If there’s a show there that you would like to see, I would recommend snagging tickets. The interior is marvelous.
That about sums it up for the downtown portion of Chicago must-sees. Of course, there is always something to see in Chicago, so don’t stop your tour of the city there. Head out to one of the many “neighborhoods” that make up so much of the charm of the city.
Colorado is a true dream. One of those places that outdoor lovers can’t help but fall in love with, and never want to leave. Cazzie used to live in Colorado when we first started dating, which now seems like ages ago! Sometimes I forget we were long distance for the first 8 months of our relationship, but I wouldn’t trade it for a thing.
I was slightly enamored with both Cazzie and the Rocky Mountains, so my trips to visit were long and frequent. I don’t think I ever asked him if I could come, I just booked flights there and would stay until I absolutely had to return to avoid getting fired from my job. Each time I visited, we had the best times together. Hiking, skiing, going to concerts…we owe a big part of our relationship to Colorado. I was even thinking about moving there before we chose to move to Nicaragua instead!
Long story short, we love Colorado. Everything from the Flatirons in Boulder to the San Juans in Telluride are magical and inspiring. Our recent visit there was mainly for a wedding in Telluride, but we were lucky to be able to extend the trip to squeeze in a camping trip in Aspen.
We flew into Denver and had friends pick us up from the airport. With a fully packed car, we began our 4 hour drive to Aspen. On our way to Aspen, we were lucky to take the absolutely stunning Independence Pass. Talk about a super sketchy mountain road, but it was totally worth the insane views! The road winds through the mountains with a million switchbacks, with mere inches between you and sudden death. At the top of the pass, we stopped at the Western Continental Divide. I suggest everyone do this if traveling through this area to gawk at the giant and beautiful mountains!
Free. Dispersed. Camping. Ever heard of it? Because it’s the way to go, hands down. It’s primitive camping with no facilities that normal built up campgrounds will have. Pros: secluded, quiet, and a true nature experience. Cons: there’s no bathroom…so you know what that means.
Because we were near Aspen, during one of the days while camping we decided to visit the gorgeouis Maroon Bells. The most photographed mountain peaks in all of North America, (whoa!) it’s easy to see why the crowds flock. The lake mirrors the peaks on nice days, and there’s many beautiful hikes to alpine lakes, waterfalls, or vistas throughout the park.
Maroon Bells is famous during the fall, when the leaves on the Aspens turn a vibrant yellow orange color. While we weren’t there for the changing of the colors, the aspen trees still form a vibrant green blanket for the mountains even in the summer. Aspen trees are a beautifully intricate species, in that they generally grow from one seedling and are all interconnected with their root systems. While individual trees live for 40-150 years, the root systems are able to live for thousands of years by sprouting new trees from the roots when one dies.
The park doesn’t allow any motorized vehicles on the road from 8am-5pm, so you will have to take a shuttle bus from the Aspen Highlands Ski Area. Tickets are $8 per adult, and there is a $5 parking fee for the lot at the bus pickup. If driving outside of the restricted hours, it costs $10 per car.
Also located near our campsite were the ice grottos and Devil’s Punchbowl. Due to a mix up of getting ice for the campsite too soon and not wanting the ice to melt, we never got to actually see either places.. When we got back to camp, we actually got so immersed in a game of Slam Ball that we forgot about going back out to those places until it was almost dark.
I feel like some of you right now are asking “what’s Slam Ball?” We had seen people playing at the beach before, but when our friend brought a game camping, we were hooked. It’s a four person game that consists of a small trampoline like net, and a ball. Points can be scored various ways between teams of two, and it’s mildly to extremely addicting.
Check it out using the link below. I highly recommend it if you have any group trips coming up! It’s so much fun for all skill levels, and can keep you entertained for hours.
As the sun went down, we all stopped to watch the sky turn colors over the mountains. It had been cloudy and misty all day but when it came time for the daily show, Mother Nature decided to open up the skies to let us see.
Colorado seems to get a bad reputation now as a “weed smokers” paradise. And yea, that’s probably true. But the immense beauty the state has…from the ski resorts, to the national forests, to the beautiful 14,000 feet mountains that dominate the landscape…give the state an even bigger outdoorsy culture as well. Being from the Midwest, it’s a refreshing change to be immersed in nature like that. Because how could you not want to be outside in a state like Colorado?
Basic Tips for Camping:
- DO protect yourself from bear attacks. Use bear canisters and DO NOT leave your food anywhere in the open near your tents.
- Bring lots of layers! It gets cold up in the mountains after the sun goes down, and you’ll want appropriate gear.
- DO bring a headlamp. Going to the bathroom in the woods is scary enough, be sure to have some light with you!
- DO Leave No Trace. This is a big one guys. Don’t be “that person” and leave garbage and other things. Protect where we play and leave it as close to natural nature as you can. If you haven’t before, I highly recommend reading the 7 Principles of Leave No Trace.