What I Learned From Traveling 5,000 Miles This Summer

10 Things I learned From traveling All Summer

Because you learn from experience and boy do I have some experience now.

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My family doesn't normally do long vacations. We used to be avid cruisers but had to stop when my grandparents got a little older. Don't get me wrong, I love all of our smaller vacations but I was tickled pink when we planned not one but TWO giant trips. One to the west coast where we drove up the California coast and ending in Seattle and a trip from our house in Northern Virginia to Coco Beach, Florida. Along the way, I picked up some frequent traveling tricks.

1. Get a food bag.

Pancakes, anyone?

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Most hotels include free breakfast. Take advantage of the free food by taking travel-friendly snacks like whole fruit, cereal, nuts and dried fruit (look by the oatmeal), granola, and yogurt. Keep all of your snacks in a tote bag. This will help if you end up in a random area with no food.

The best money saving tip is to eat a big breakfast in the morning, eat hotel snacks during the day, and eat out for late lunch or dinner. You will save tons of money and you won't feel hungry throughout the day! Win, Win!

2. Make Ziplocks your travel best friend.

You don't understand how much I love them.

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Originally, I believed zip locks to be just a tool for leftovers. Now I know they're an essential travel need.

Need something to carry all your free cereal and nuts?

Ziplocks!

Dirty shoes or wet bathing suit?

Ziplocks!

Need help organizing a suitcase?

Ziplocks!

Need to monitor your liquids before a flight?

ZIPLOCKS!!!

Ziplocks are an essential tool for any traveler. Bring a few boxes with or purchase them while on the road and sit back and wonder how you ever lived without them.

3. Sign up for ALL of the rewards programs.

So. much. free. stuff

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My mom is a member of three national chains of hotel's rewards programs. Because of this, we get tons of free stuff. We can get everything from snacks and drinks, room upgrades, and heavily discounted prices.

Still not convinced? We got a deluxe room in a major city for $45 instead of $165 because of using our loyalty points.

It's totally worth signing up! You will reap the benefits.

4. Pick your co-pilot wisely.

Your co-pilot is an important tool!

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Your front seat passenger isn't there just to pick songs off your bumping playlists. Pick a co-pilot who will stay awake and keep you awake. Make sure they're looking out for people or animals on the road, and make sure they're giving you all of your directions. While road trips and vacations are fun, you need to make sure your co-pilot will help you along the way.

Make sure you can talk to them about possibly taking over driving if you feel tired or exhausted. Safety is key!

5. Make some killer playlists.

headbangers needed.

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Music is essential to any good trip. But I find it not just wanted, but needed when driving through long stretches of winding roads to keep you awake and focused. Create a high tempo playlist for fun or long drives and calm playlists for more serene moments.

Also, keep in mind if you have a music streaming app like Spotify, download your playlists before you go. The playlists can't play if you're offline if you don't download them!

Apps like Amazon prime video and Netflix will let you download movies before you go on a long plane ride, very helpful if you need something to do on a long plane ride.

6. Route your GPS before it's too late.

What do you mean I don't have service?

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We learned the hard way by driving through a national park in the Sierra Nevada Mountains that T-Mobile doesn't have great service on mountain ranges. That would be fine if we knew where we were going! We eventually found a store with wifi that let us route back into cell reception.

Route your GPS BEFORE you leave the cell reception range. It will continue to route you even if you aren't in range. While it might run your battery down a little, it's better than being full out lost. An even better idea? Print your directions out at your hotel's business center like the good ol' days.

7. Utilize pit stops when you get the chance.

You need to pee now???

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It's a classic tale, that of which you don't need to go to the bathroom when there are tons of places to go but feel like you are going to burst when you're in the middle of nowhere.

Take advantage of roadside rest stops where you can also pick up free maps of the state which you will inevitably need when you forget to reroute your GPS before you leave cellphone range. (ALWAYS take the map!)

The same goes for food. When traveling to national parks or other sprawling spaces of land, the number of food options will be slim. You can either eat your free hotel snacks, find food when you can and eat it later, or starve until you finally find someplace. The choice is up to you!

8. If you find reasonable gas prices, fill up there!

Gas is HOW MUCH?

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While driving up the west coast, we realized quickly that if you see affordable gas, fill up there. Even if you have half a tank.

Fill up while you have the chance to because chances are it will be .50 cents more just one more town over. If you're in a location that doesn't have a pipeline access, gas is going to be expensive so look for discounts always.

Also just a note, I learned the hard way that a lot of states require pump attendants aka you can't pump your own gas. As a skeptical DIY pumper, I felt weird handing a stranger my card. Apparently, it's the law in some states!

9. Learn how to be flexible...

Flexibility is key.

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Sometimes the best parts of your trip are the ones you figured out along the way.

If you have a day that isn't scheduled, check websites like TripAdvisor, Yelp, or local blogs to find activities, things to do, restaurants, and hotels for you to do. There is nothing worse than cutting a fun activity or trip through an amazing little town short because you already booked your hotel reservations in advance.

Do yourself and your travel partners a favor and play it by ear, some places you'll love more than others and you'll feel less stressed if you don't set a rigid schedule.

10. ...but know what is non-negotiable.

I SAID I WANTED TO GO TO SAN FRANCISCO!

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Discuss your non-negotiable stops before you leave on your trip.

My mom really wanted to see all the volcanoes in Washington and I wanted to see Lake Tahoe. Both of us would have been crushed if we made it all the way there and not get to see the spots we really wanted to view.

Balance your must-sees with the "it could go either way" moments, you'll get to visit all of our favorite spots but still get to view some new places too.

Traveling can be overloading if you aren't prepared. Take it from someone who traveled over 5,000 miles this summer all over the country that while being exhausting, traveling is also incredibly rewarding. Follow these tips and enjoy a less stressful trip!

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11 Must-Go To Day Trips In North Carolina

For the wanderers and curious...
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It's finally summer, classes are out! There are so many things to do in this beautiful state. There are many small towns to visit. These towns are perfect day trips. From the mountains to the beach and everything in between, there is something for everyone! Pack your car up and get ready for a summer of adventure.

1. NoDa

This is a small hipster district right outside of Uptown Charlotte. Music and art paint this town and it has a very creative energy flow. Amelie’s Bakery, a 24/7 french bakery, is located in this district. There is always something fun and new to try in this cute, artistic town!

2. Asheville


This town is known for the beautiful scenery and historic importance. The Biltmore Estate is located here, and it is open for tours every day of the year. It is the biggest estate in America. The downtown area is very artistic, and the mountains make for a gorgeous hike. This is definitely an adventure you don't want to miss.

3. Boone

This small town has a lot of outdoor activities. It is perfect for hiking and whitewater rafting. If you love nature, this is a must see. It is a college town where Appalachian State University is located. The downtown area is very old school and for modern hipsters.

4. Crowders Mountain

This is located in Gaston County. Once you reach the Pinnacle, the peak of the trail, with clear skies you can see for miles. It is a quick four-mile hike for the short one, the view is amazing.

5. Wilmington

This city is known for the beachfront. It makes a perfect day to hit the waves. There are many beach fronts to visit, such as Carolina Beach. Cape Fear Ocean runs through this city. White sand, waves and the boardwalk. If you are a fan of One Tree Hill, it was filmed here.The small restaurants and characteristics give this town a vibrant energy.

6. Serendipity House

This house is from the movie Nights In Rodanthe located on a beach in Avon, North Carolina. It has been remodeled, but the amazing characteristics of this make it a sight to see.

7. Linville Falls

This is located in Linville, North Carolina. Attractions close by are also the Blue Ridge Mountain. To get to the main fall, it is about a mile hike.

8. Outer Banks

Small beaches on the outer banks of North Carolina have wild horses. Corolla Wild Ponies run free, and you can even take a ride on them in the water.

9. Sliding Rock

Located in Brevard, this rock is actually naturally made from a small waterfall. You can actually go sliding down it. It is in Pisgah National Forest also near Asheville.

10. Devil's Tramping Ground

This is located near Bennett. It is a 40-foot circle that cannot grow life. If you leave something or sleep in the circle, the rumor is it will be outside of the circle the next day.

11. Land of Oz Theme park

Located in Beech Mountain, this theme park that was once full of life is now closed and for the most part abandoned. It comes alive for one night a year for an event. This is definitely a place to take a night adventure to...

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My Future Is Unpredictable And That's Totally Alright

As I prepare for study abroad in Ecuador, I'm going in with no expectations.

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For six months, I had plans to study abroad in the Dominican Republic during the fall semester of junior year. Filling out what seemed like endless applications and paperwork, searching for travel ideas on Pinterest, and writing a class research paper on the DR's relationship with its neighboring island, Haiti, I was prepared to live and learn about Dominican culture hands-on.

Then on the Thursday before Finals Week last spring, I read my email. My study abroad program in the DR had gotten canceled. In the span of 30 seconds, my future had taken a new course. Less than a week later, I was submitting papers to study abroad in a new country where another adventure awaited: Ecuador.

If there's anything I've learned in the past year, it's that life is unpredictable and we can't control it. The future is unknown. But-

Who wants to know exactly what's going to happen in the next few years? I mean, I believe it's good to have a direction, but you don't have to have the entire journey pinpointed straight to the core. You meet people, you get inspired, you see things, you have experiences. And you go from there. (Though, I totally respect people who have clear ambitions and stick with them their entire lives.)

Where I was a year ago was a completely different path than where I find myself today. Last summer, I worked four different internships/jobs in the span of three months. A year ago, I would never have guessed my following summer unfolding with an immersion trip to India, a solo adventure to Taiwan & Hong Kong, and becoming a certified yoga instructor. A year ago, I hadn't met half of my best friends. A year ago, I hadn't seen poverty in a third-world country. A year ago, I wasn't even sure I wanted to major in Environmental Studies.

Just because I don't know what the future holds doesn't mean I can't set goals. I have a destination, an idea of where I'm headed and where I want to go. While abroad in Ecuador, I want to learn about sustainable development and coffee production as well as enhance my Spanish skills.

As I prepare for study abroad in Ecuador, I'm going in with no expectations. I know the format of the program. I'll be taking classes and living with a host family and then doing an internship at a farm. Otherwise, I have no idea what's going to happen. And that's what I'm looking forward to the most. The spontaneity. The unexpected. As one of my good friends would say whenever he doesn't have formal weekend plans, "I'm improvising." And you know the one rule of improv: Always say yes.

¡Hasta pronto, Ecuador!

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