A Hostel Life: Hostel Travel 101

The abundance of Covid-19 vaccines and dropping positive cases means that we can finally start planning out our next great adventure! Granted, this adventure might not be for another year, but I always like to plan ahead.

As I have talked about before, lodging is often one of the larger expenses during a trip. One of the ways to get that down (and have a new experience) is to crash in hostels. For the uninitiated, hostels are low-cost, shared lodging. Rather than renting a full room, you are paying for a single bed within a shared room. These beds are usually in a bunkbed dormitory style. The occupants of the room usually share a bathroom and there are shared kitchen, dining, and lounging areas for the whole hostel. Some hostels offer full private rooms, but these are often the same price (if not more) as a standard hotel. Renting a bunk allows travelers to allocate more money to outings, food, and souvenirs.

Here are my tips and tricks to how to hostel.

Finding A Hostel

  • Research the Location. Before booking my hostel, I always look at where the hostel is located. Since hostel accommodations are low cost, it isn’t unusual for them to be located in the not-so-great part of town. You’ll want to know what the crime rates are for the area, especially if you are traveling alone.
  • Look at Reviews. I find others’ experiences to be incredibly useful. Yelp and Google Reviews can give you an inside look at the hostel’s cleanliness, hospitality, and security. That said, take these reviews with a grain of salt. For many people, especially first-time hostel users, their views may be skewed or biased. The more reviews and blogs you can read about a hostel, the better idea you’ll have of what you’re walking into.
  • What type of room will you book? Hostels offer gender-exclusive, co-ed, and private rooms. If you are traveling alone, especially if you are a woman, I would highly recommend booking a gender-exclusive room.
  • What type of hostel is it? Just like dorms in college, there are many different types of hostels. Hostels can be divided into seven general categories. For more information, check out Hostel Geeks.
    1. Party Hostel. Like the name suggests, the point of a party hostel is to party hard! These hostels often advertise on-site bars, pub crawls, and a lack of a quiet hour. These hostels are very popular with a younger crowd. The vibe prioritizes drinking over a cultural exploration.
    2. Budget Hostel. These hostels are usually pretty minimalistic. They won’t have top of the line facilities and will be located off the beaten path. You’ll need to find out if the hostel will provide linens and food or if they charge extra for towels. You’ll definitely want to check out reviews before staying at a budget hostel.
    3. Boutique Hostel. These hostels provide extra comfort, usually coupled with a unique theme. These hostels are generally more intimate than a budget hostel, providing their patrons with more space and a more comfortable bed. Many of these hostels also include extended luxuries, such as a pool, spa, or fancy kitchens. If you want to treat yourself, this is a good way to go.
    4. Homey Hostel. The mission of this hostel is to provide a home away from home. They often have full kitchen facilities, family-style dinners, and an actual living room rather than a breakroom.
    5. Youth Hostel. This is one of the most well-known types of hostels. When people think of hostels, this is usually what comes to mind. These hostels emphasize inexpensive accommodations for large groups. They feature large dorm rooms and roomy common areas.
    6. Lifestyle Hostel. If you are travelling for an experience and to explore the local culture and activities, this is the hostel for you. Located in the center of all the activity, these hostels offer a variety of activities and rentals, such as surfing, hiking, biking, diving, group tours, and more. This is the ideal hostel for the adventurer.
    7. Certified Hostel. Unlike hotels, most hostels are run independently. However, there are many certification programs and hostel networks that provide third party certification and oversight. This holds hostels to a specific standard and provides peace of mind for travelers. For example, Hostel Geeks offers 5 Star Hostels and Hostel World hosts their Hoscars every year, celebrating excellent hostel in multiple categories.
  • Keep your valuables safe.
Most hostels offer lockers for visitors to keep their valuables safe.
  1. Lockers: Unless you’re staying in a private room, double check that your hostel offers personal lockers. Theft is always a concern in a shared room scenario, both with your roommates and hostel staff. A locker, secured with your own, personal lock, is the best way to keep your gear safe. That said, I have been in the situation where I was in a room without a personal locker. For those scenarios, my Pacsafe Venturesafe Pack is my best friend. It has lockable zippers and razer-resistant fabric and straps. It takes a lot to cut through the pack. I tried before I left on my trip. I carry a pack lock, which allows me to secure my luggage in my room. Of course, there’s always ways to break into my system if the thief is determined, but most thieves are opportunistic. If it takes too much work, they are more likely to be caught.
    1. Don’t showcase your valuables. I get it. You can’t always get around leaving your laptop at home. Or maybe you really wanted to bring your handheld game system or tablet with you on the trip. Perhaps you brought your expensive camera. That’s all fine, but when you stay in a hostel, do not flaunt your electronics. Disguise their cases so it isn’t obvious what they are. If you’re going to work on your computer at the hostel instead of a coffee shop, cover your laptop with stickers to make your laptop look less desirable, old, and harder to resell. Don’t let people see you lock your electronics in your luggage or locker. The less people know what is in your bag, the better.
    2. Keep your wallet, phone, and papers on you at all times. These important items don’t go in my luggage or locker. Instead, I carry them with me all the time. I make ready use of slimline exercise bands for when I am hanging out or sleeping. When I showered, the door was locked, and those valuables were inside the bathroom with me. Don’t take chances on your money and identifying documents.
  2. Talk and Make Friends. Hostels are an amazing opportunity to meet people from all around the world. The last time I stayed in a hostel in Hawaii, I met people from New York, Germany, Japan, Ireland, and China… and that’s just the women I roomed with! Hostels are a gathering point for travelers. You can meet some of the most interesting people. You might find a life-long friend or at least a short-term adventure buddy. At the very least, you’ll learn about cool places to check out and, trust me on this one, your bucket list will grow exponentially.
  3. Be considerate of your roommates. I’m sure we’ve all had that college roommate who came barging into your dorm room at 3 AM the morning you had an important final. The same thing can happen at a hostel. Don’t be that person. Use your phone light to find your bed and luggage rather than turning on the main light. Try not to make too much noise. If you want to chat with someone late at night or read a book after your roommates have gone to bed, utilize the common areas. There’s nothing worse than trying to sleep when your bunkmate is talking (or even whispering) on the phone. Pro tip: if you tend to do anything with a light, such as scrolling your phone or reading a book before going to sleep, offer to take the top bunk. That will help contain the light and be more courteous to your roommates.
  4. Showering in Hostels.
    1. Consider that your shower is not a private shower. You don’t know how often it is cleaned. Always wear sandals to shower.
    2. Bring a waterproof bag to hold your shower essentials and belongings. Not all hostel showers include hooks or a shelf to set your stuff. If it is a shared shower, similar to a gym, you might want to keep a closer eye on your money and personal documents.
    3. Does your hostel offer towels? If not, consider bringing a micro towel. These towels absorb tons of water and dry quickly. They fold up very small and are lightweight, so they’re perfect for travel.
    4. Always bring your change of clothing! If the hostel has shared showers they might be close to your room, but running back in only a towel can lead to embarrassing or uncomfortable situations.
Hostel beds are general dorm-style bunkbeds. Most hostels will provide a sheet and MAYBE a blanket. Check ahead so you can be prepared.
  • Bedding. Hostels generally offer clean sheets and linens, thought this might be an additional charge so you’ll want to check before you book. There’s no reason for you to bring your full bedding. Leave your sleeping bags and pillows at home. After all, most hostels don’t even let you use sleeping bags in their rooms. That said, I always bring a sleeping bag liner with me. The liner gives me extra warmth is needed, will save money if the hostel charges for sheets, and gives me extra protection if the bedding ends up being less-than-clean. Most traveler blogs I’ve read recommend bringing silk liners, which are small and lightweight, but I prefer Sea-to-Summit’s Thermolite Sleeping Bag Liners. These liners are a little bulkier than silk liners but provide extra warmth and are softer on my skin. I sleep cold, so the extra warmth is welcome.
  • Parking and Transportation. Great! You’ve figured out where you’re going to visit, but how will you get around? Many hostels do not have parking lots or street parking, so if your renting a car or driving yourself, you’ll need to know where to park ahead of time. Are you using public transit? If so, how accessible is your hostel to train and bus stations? If you’re biking, does your hostel offer biker lockers? Your mode of transportation often determines your hostel. A hostel might be offering a great deal, but if it’s completely inconvenient for the rest of your trip, it might be better to pay just a bit more to have access to transportation.

Did I miss your favorite hostel tips and tricks? Let me know in the comments below!

11 Unexpected Travel Expenses and How To Avoid Them

There is nothing worse than starting out your grand adventure, and then getting hit with a barrage of unexpected, un-budgeted travel expenses. Those hidden surprises can often break a trip (and your pocketbook).

Car Rentals

Don’t forget to bring your credit card with you if you are renting a car! If you go to rent a vehicle for your adventure with a debit card, the company will often place a hold of several hundred dollars on your card in case of damages. I’ve been in places that charge a higher fee for renting with a debit rather than a credit card in addition to that hold. It was a very unpleasant experience when I first encountered that policy.

Online Booking Fees

When you’re looking online to book your travel, hotel, and more, you might not see the hidden fees, such as taxes, cleaning, and other fees. If you find a booking you like, click through the purchase page, but don’t input your credit card information. That should tell you the true cost of the booking, allowing you to better compare deals.

Uber Eats Costs

Food delivery apps have soared in poularity with the pandemic! I now find myself even preordering my food to pick up if I’m in the area. However, that is not the most cost-effective measure to take.

Uber Eats and other food delivery apps charge extra for their services. For example, I regularly eat at a restaurant called Fish’s Wild Island Grill in Davis, CA. I usually order the Grilled Salmon Bowl. If I call in my order or order in person, it costs me $8.95. However, if I order with Uber Eats to pick up, it costs $10.95. That’s a pretty substantial price difference. I used to use Uber Eats, especially with the pandemic, to place my orders while travelling. Now, I’ll dial up the store and actually talk to a human being.

Airline Fees

Baggage fees can really add up! I usually try to just use carry on, but pack a collapsible duffle to check on the way back in case I find awesome souvenirs.

Do you need to check a bag on your flight? Perhaps you need to book your flight in person or over the phone? Do you want to choose your own seat?

These days, airlines are charging for more and more services. From baggage fees to food charges (no more free snacks). Many airports are even charging for WIFI while in the terminal, not even mentioning the WIFI on the airplane.

Before you leave in the stupid-early hours of the morning to catch your flight, make you you have listed out the services you know you’ll need a budget for it. Luckily, Smarter Travel created a handy table that lists out the more popular services and corresponding charges for 11 of the most popular airlines.

If you regularly travel, there are many airline programs and credit cards that offer free baggage checks. My day-job often includes travelling across the country to vend at different events. My credit card with free baggage checks saves me a substantial penny annually.

Hidden Cruise Charges

You are celebrating. You purchased a full package ticket on your favorite cruise line! Now you’re looking forward to just relaxing on deck, sipping that refreshing drink while reading that book you heard about on Parrotfish Adventure.

But… does your full package really cover everything? It’s important to read the fine print. The cruise usually expects you to pay for drinks, additional dining options, tours, and extra cruise activities, such as climbing walls, spas, etc. Double check to see if the activities you want to do are included in your package. If they are not, you’ll want to budget ahead of time so that you can fully relax on your trip.

Hotel Fees

Definitely double check tipping etiquette for your destination.

You might have booked your room, but does that include free parking? How about WIFI, laundry, or extra cleaning fees? Do you get free continental breakfast? Before you hit the road, double check for those extra fees. The one that gets me most often is parking. Many hotels, especially high-end hotels, don’t include parking or have obligatory valet parking.

You also don’t want to forget to pack some extra cash to tip room service and valet. Double check, though, because some higher-end hotels have no-tipping policies in place. Keep in mind that tipping is primarily a United States custom only. Check a travel guide if you are travelling abroad for the proper tipping etiquette.

ATM Fees

Do you need to withdraw cash while on your trip? Be aware of ATM charges if you withdraw out of network! It isn’t unusual for the charges to range from $3 to $5. Instead of withdrawing money from an ATM, try to pair it with a purchase you already have to make, such as at the grocery store or Target.

Transportation Costs

When budgeting for your trip, it’s not unusual for smaller transportation costs to slip through the cracks. You’ve budgeted for the plane ticket or the drive to your destination, but what about the gas to get around while you’re there? Public transit costs? Tolls?

When I first visited Dallas, Texas, I was not expecting the tolls. I was staying on one side of the Dallas International Airport, and my event I was attending was on the other. I had two choices: take the long way around the airport, which would add at least 45 minutes to my commute, or pay the entry and exit tolls to cut through the airport. Going back and forth racked up to about $50 of unexpected expenses. Now, I always double check for tolls beyond just the expected bridge tolls of California.

Travel Insurance

Travel insurance is a good thing to have, especially in uncertain times. If someone gets sick, something comes up at work, or you have to cancel your trip for some other reason, travel insurance can save you a lot of money. That said, travel insurance can add up, too. Many travelers purchase their trip on credit cards that offer travel insurance as a benefit.

Foreign Travel Fees

There are so many hidden fees to consider when you travel abroad.

Credit Cards

It isn’t uncommon for credit cards to charge an additional 3% on international transactions. It’s beneficial to try to pay mostly with cash rather than card. You can also apply for a travel credit card that waives international fees, but be wary of APR of some of those cards.

Cellphone Data and Roaming Charges

Before you go on your international trip, talk to your cell phone provider. Many providers offer international plans that could be more affordable for your destination than the roaming charges. Two great examples are Verizon’s TravelPass and AT&T’s Passport programs. These programs allow you to use your regular plan, but just charge a small surcharge when travelling a set number of countries.

If you cannot get an international plan for your phone, don’t forget to set up your phone to avoid extra charges. Turn off roaming, deactivate texting, and turn off non-vital apps. Definitely do not stream on your phone. Streaming eats up a lot of data. Many people that travel aboard purchase a temporary international phone, especially if you will be making a lot of calls while on your trip.

Expect the Unexpected

Things happen, so it’s good to have flex in your budget to accommodate. There was the time that I went to summit Mt. St. Helens with my Dad, and he left his waterproof pants at home, so we made an emergency stop at REI. There was also the time when my socks got soaked and uncomfortable at Disneyland, so I needed to purchase new socks, with the added Disney tax, of course.

When I am on my trips, I usually recommend budgeting $20-$30 extra each day for those “just in case.” It’s rare that I use that money, but when I need it, I have it. There’s nothing worse than straining your budget for an unexpected need. It gives me a better peace of mind.

Did I miss a hidden travel expanse? Let me know in the comments below!


Want to learn more about financially-savvy travel? Check out 10 Ways to Save Money While Travelling and 16 Best Tips and Tricks for Solo Women Adventurers.


Happy Adventuring!

The Green Traveler: Eco Friendly Travel Tips and Tricks

It sounds simple: just be a responsible adult when you travel. But when you start the planning process, things get a bit more complicated. From the carbon emissions to get to your destination to the convenient single-use packaging when you arrive.

Lucky for you, there are some simple ways to make your next adventure friendly both for you and the environment.

Where are you going to stay?

Hotels

Most hotels have an astounding negative impact on the environment. Hotel stays are part of the vacation, leading to guests to take long showers, change the linens on their bed daily, maintaining a steady temperature in their room even when they are gone…. it all adds up. Hotels contribute 60 million tons of CO2 emissions annually because of such practices. But what can you do to help? Luckily, many of the practices you use at home transfer straight into the hotel!

  1. Unplug appliances when you aren’t using them.
  2. Adjust the thermostat when you leave the room.
  3. Put the “Do Not Disturb” sign on the door. That can help save over 6,000 gallons of water!
  4. Take shorter showers.

You should also take a look at where you book your stay. Just a bit of research on your destination can uncover eco-friendly hotels! These hotels make efforts to use sustainable energy, lower water usage, and reduce plastic waste. Many of these hotels also promote social inclusiveness, fair market competitiveness, and supporting their local communities.

Homesharing

Our Airbnb in Keaau, HI had a wonderful lanai (covered porch) and a very knowledgeable and helpful host. We got some many great local tips!

Home sharing companies like Airbnb and VRBO are another great way to be more eco-friendly. Home sharing listings generate less waste, use less water, and drain less energy than traditional hotels. A 2018 Cleantech analysis of Airbnb found that Airbnb guest stays in North America resulted in lower greenhouse gas emissions equal to that of over 354,000 cars and waste reduction of 64,000 tons.

According to Airbnb’s website, in 2018, 88% of Airbnb hosts around the world incorporated green practices into their business, such as using green cleaning products, providing recycling or composting, encouraging guests to use public transportation or providing bicycles, or installing solar panels.

Hostels

Hostels usually have a wonderful common area for you to relax and meet new people.

Like hotels, ecofriendly hostels can be hit or miss. However, most hostels do not offer room service, daily fresh linens and towels, and other wasteful practices. The act of room sharing in itself already reduces waste. When sharing a room, you are less likely to take long, luxurious showers and you are energy-sharing in a single room rather than parsing out energy and resources to multiple rooms.

Hostelworld recommends looking for Hostels that are community minded and source their food locally. They should also use eco-friendly furniture, linens, and bath products and avoid single-use plastics. Many eco-friendly hostels also offer sustainable transportation, such as bikes, group tours, and ride sharing.

What are you packing?

Pack Light

I’ve mentioned this before in travel tips, but pack light! The heavier your luggage, the more fuel it takes to transport by train, plane, car, or bus. It might seem small, but every little bit adds up to make a big difference in carbon emissions. According to Sustainable Travel International, “lightening your luggage by 15 pounds would decrease your emissions by about 80 pounds on a ten hour flight. Imagine if there were 200 passengers on your flight and they all packed light – It would eliminate 16,000 pounds of CO2!”

Check out my other articles on packing light. I’ve discussed how packing light saves money and makes it a lot easier when traveling solo.

By packing light, you are focusing on what you really need on your trip. Include clothing that you can wear multiple times and is easy to wash on the go. Leave larger items like camping gear at home and rent locally, especially when traveling by plane and public transit.

Pack Reusable

Take a close look at the products you are bringing with you. While single-use products can be very convenient, they aren’t eco-friendly. Use your own reusable toiletry kits. That way you can refill them for every trip rather than tossing empty containers every time (pro tip, that will also save you a lot of money). For my toiletries, I’ve switched over to solid toiletries. Solid shampoo wastes less. A single bar is equivalent to three liquid bottles and they don’t use plastic packaging. In a traveler’s perspective, they are wonderful in the airport! By bringing all solid toiletries, I don’t have to worry about fishing out my toiletry bag to get through security at the airport.

My very well-worn Hydroflask has seen its share of adventures!

Two items I always bring with me when I travel is a reusable water bottle and thermos. It is no secret that I absolutely love coffee and coffee shops. But getting the to-go coffee cups all the time adds up to a lot of waste. My Hydroflask is my go-to thermos! Not only does it help me reduce waste, but it keeps my coffee hot or cold much longer than those flimsy paper cups! Given that I can be very clumsy, my thermos is definitely a failsafe for when I’m out exploring with my coffee.

I also always bring my reusable utensils and straw, a reusable napkin, and a reusable shopping bag. These are all easy to wash at your Airbnb/hotel and really reduce single-use plastics on the road. According to the Ocean Conservancy, cutlery is among the most deadly plastic pollution to ocean life. If you must use single-use cutlery, make sure to get biodegradable. There are many single-use bamboo and plant fiber single-use utensils and straws that mimic their plastic equivalents. As Steven Alder, the founder of Clickeat, said, “Our goal is not to replace reusable things. We’re trying to redefine the concept of single use.”

Pack Environmentally Friendly

Do you need to wear sunscreen (hint: the answer is yes)? If you answered yes (which you should have!!!), then take a second look at the sunscreen you grab off the shelf! Did you know that many types of sunscreens are harmful to the environment? You can read more about the specificities in my blog post, “Is your sunscreen killing coral? The importance of reef-safe sunscreen”, but the TLDR is that switching to sunscreen with natural ingredients like zinc oxide and titanium oxide is safe to use near waterways. Most safe sunscreens will be labeled “Reef Safe” on their packaging.

Not only are solid shampoos travel friendly, they are also ecofriendly! Unlike many liquid shampoos, solid shampoos use all-natural ingredients that do not produce toxic byproducts. Just like liquid shampoos, there are different recipes for solid shampoos for different types of hair, from frizzy, to dry, to oily, and more. EcoGirl Shop is an excellent source for ecofriendly soaps.

How are you going to get to your adventure?

My bike is one of my favorite modes of transportation! When traveling by car, bus, train, or ferry, it isn’t unusual for my to bring my bike with me. When I get to my destination, it becomes one of my primary forms of transportation.

Transportation is one of the leading emitters of greenhouse gases. Planning out your transportation can help reduce your carbon footprint while still having a fantastic adventure!

  • If you are travelling nearby, considering driving or public transit rather than flying.
  • Make your car ride more ecofriendly. You can do this by reducing your luggage weight and ride sharing.
  • Once you’re at your destination, incorporate environmentally-friendly transportation:
    • Park in a central location and walk.
    • When renting a car, try to get an electric or hybrid vehicle.
    • Take public transit whenever possible.
    • Use a bike to get around.

Check out these resources for more eco-friendly travel tips!

  1. New York Times, How to Travel Sustainably
  2. The Washington Post, What is ‘green travel,’ anyway? A beginner’s guide to eco-friendly vacation planning.
  3. Sustainable Travel International
  4. World Nomads, Top 10 Tips for Eco-Friendly Travel

Did I miss your best tip for an eco-friendly adventure? Let me know in the comments below!


Want to check out more Travel Tips?

Check out 16 Best Tips and Tricks for Solo Women Adventurers and Reduce Your Exposure: 5 Ways to Stay Safe and Travel During a Pandemic


Happy Adventuring!

The Twisted Volcano: Sibley Volcanic Regional Preserve

Elsa from Disney’s Frozen proclaimed loudly, “Into the unknown!” I know that many of my fellow adventurers can relate to the sentiment. One of my favorite games to play is to go onto a map and randomly choose a location I have never explored before.

The other weekend, I was feeling restless. I was tired of the same-ol’ routines and local parks. I needed a new unknown. So I made my way to my trusty Google Maps and choose a randomly selected regional park.

Best decision ever! I discovered an amazing local gem: Sibley Volcanic Regional Preserve.

This regional preserve is located in the Berkley Hills in the East Bay region of the San Francisco Bay. It’s a large expanse, with a multitude of backpacking and hiking trails crisscrossing 928 acres. Did I mention that the park is dog-friendly? The trails wind through oak forests, across ridgelines, and past interesting rock formations.

Sibley Volcanic Regional Preserve was established as a park in 1936. Originally named Round Top Regional Park, it was renamed after UC Berkley professor, Robert Sibley, after his death in 1958. Sibley was instrumental in protecting land in the East Bay hills. In 1929, a water company announced their plans to sell large swaths of land. According to East Bay Hills: A Brief History, Sibley “went right down to city officials and said, ‘these valuable pieces of land ought to be preserved forever.” Sibley used his influence to recruit many valuable civic leaders to protect the parks and to organize the East Bay Parks Association.

But let’s go back in time to the Pliocene, between 2.5 and 5 million years ago. At this time, Sibley Volcanic Regional Preserve was home to an active volcano. The volcano was built on top of rocks and vents that date back to 10 million years ago! This volcano was surrounded by freshwater streams and pools. The Quaternary Glaciation had not yet carved out the San Francisco Bay, so the ocean was further away than it is today. Camels, horses, mastodons, and oreodonts roamed the plains at the base of the volcano. If you searched, you could even find bear dogs, flamingos, rhinos, and ground sloths. The Pliocene was quite an exotic mix of animals!

As millions of years passed, the fauna of old passed with it. The glaciers carved out the San Francisco Bay. But the most distinct change to the landscape came from the volcano. Compression caused by local volcanic faults folded the rock formations, pushing and twisting the volcano onto its side.

All of this erosion, folding, and twisting exposed a cross-section of the volcano, providing an excellent opportunity for scientists to study the volcano. The geology was also ideal for quarrying operations as a source of basalt.

Today, the Regional Park is a go-to destination for outdoor recreation. Most of the trails are reserved for hiking and horseback riding, thought there is a good selection of mountain biking trails, too.

The Skyline Boulevard Staging area offers visitors a self-guided tour. This tour takes you across the Volcanic Trail, following the ridgeline from the ancient crater. The guide covers ancient geology and local ecology and recent history. It’s well worth the hike!

Sibley Backpack Camp, photo from Reserve America

If you are a backpacker, Sibley Backpack Camp is a primitive site that can accommodate up to 6 campers. It’s an easy 0.2 mile hike from the nearest parking lot, so it’s very accommodating for new backpackers. The site has wonderful views of Mount Diablo, Vollmer Peak and Tilden Peak. There is no potable water on site; the closest water source is at the parking lot, so you’ll need to pack it in. You can get more information about backpacking at Sibley at the East Bay Regional Park District website.

If you’re in the area, I highly recommend exploring Sibley Volcanic Regional Park! It has something for everyone: geology, ecology, hiking, biking, dog-friendly… the list goes on.

Happy adventuring!

Sibley Volcanic Regional Preserve Visitor’s Map

Gear Review: Madera Waterproof Ultralight Travel Backpack

When Madera sent me their Waterproof Ultralight Travel Backpack to test and review, I knew that I had to take the assignment seriously. There was only one place to thoroughly test this backpack. I booked my plane tickets and headed off to one of the wettest places in the United States: Hilo, HI during the rainy season.

This is a typical rain in Hilo.

The Big Island is known for its copious amounts of rain, especially on the eastern side. Hilo, the biggest city on the island, gets an annual rainfall of about 127 inches, making it the rainiest city in the United States. There is no better place to test waterproof gear.

Madera’s Specs

DescriptionSpecifications
Weight5.5 oz folded, 2.3 oz unfolded
MaterialsHigh Tenacity Nylon
Packed Dimensions(L x W) 6.5″ x 5.5″
Unfolded Dimensions(L x W) 17″ x 12″
Best UseCamping, Backpacking, Everyday life
Weight Capacity80 lbs
Primary ColorBlack
Specs for the Waterproof Ultralight Travel Backpack from Madera’s website

Compatibility

The interior compartment can hold a lot of gear. On this trip, I was regularly carrying my Covid kit (masks, hand sanitizer, etc), wallet, sunscreen, layers, food, water, binoculars, and guide books.

Madera’s Waterproof Ultralight bag is extremely lightweight. It packs into a 6.5inx5.5in pocket and weighs only 5.5oz. This is perfect for getting weight down on airplanes or backpacking.

When fully extended, the pack measures 17inx12in, featuring a small interior pocket and an outer drop pocket.

The compact nature was incredibly useful on our trip. On the flight to the island, the bag traveled in my suitcase. But on the way back, I was able to pull it out as my second carry-on to carry my extra souvenirs, such as my coffee from Buddha’s Cup (read more about that experience HERE).

Comfort

Due to its ultralight nature, the pack has no back support. I found it uncomfortable to wear fully loaded unless I slid a handy folder in the back for extra support. The bag is designed to more comfortably carry lighter loads, such as an outer layer and a snack. The heavier and more awkward the load, the more uncomfortable the bag becomes.

This made it perfect for running around town. I could stick my small purchases in the pack, my layers, and carry water without issues. However, it was less comfortable to long hikes that required more gear, such as binoculars, guide books, layers, and a full lunch.

Materials

The pack is made from a lightweight high tenacity nylon, allowing it to pack down extremely small. It features waterproof zippers and reinforced straps. According to Madera’s website, the pack is rated to hold 80lbs. I didn’t test that full weight capacity, but regularly carried about 15lbs to 20lbs on my trip with no difficulties. While I have no doubt that the material and construction of the bag can withstand loads of 80lbs, I doubt it would be comfortable to wear long-term.

Waterproof

This is the big question I wanted to answer: just how waterproof is Madera’s waterproof travel pack?

The rain at Akaka Falls was incredible. It was the best possible test of a waterproof bag, outside of jumping off a paddleboard.

To test the pack, I wore it out on the trails two days in a row on the Big Island. The rain was non-stop both days. Think full rainforest deluge.

The first day I took the pack to Lava Tree Monument outside Pahoa. The loop trail runs 0.7 miles with occasional rain shelters along the way. There was intermittent rain throughout the trail. We’d have a period of time with just a light drizzle, and suddenly the rain would pour before lightening up again. The trail took about 1.5 hours to complete (side note: the geology was amazing! I definitely recommend a trip). At the end of the trail, the inside of the pack was damp, though some of that was attributed to humidity.

I continued to wear the pack throughout the day, which alternated between heavy rain and drizzles. The pack remained slightly damp, but not particularly wet.

The next day the rain was significantly harder. I wore the pack at Akaka Falls (0.5mi, 1.5 hours outside). The rain fell in heavy sheets. By the end of the trail, the inside of the pack was wet and everything was soaked. There was no doubt, this was not due to humidity.

Conclusion

Madera’s Waterproof Ultralight Travel Backpack is very water resistant but not fully waterproof. The pack holds up just fine in a light rain or running from point to point but, but not suitable for extended periods of time in heavy rain.

The pack is extremely lightweight and compact, making it ideal in backpacking or as a secondary travel pack.

Would I recommend it? Yes, I would. This pack will not be a main pack for me, but it is one I will definitely pull out again as a secondary travel pack or as a summiting pack while backpacking. It’s good value for it’s price-point, features, and durability. I would put it in the same category as REI’s Flash Pack series.


Interested in the Waterproof Ultralight Travel Backpack or other Madera products?

Use this code to get 20% Off: PARROTFISH.ADVENTURES

MADERA OUTDOOR


Want to hear my thoughts about more of Madera’s products? Check out my review of Madera’s Emergency Headlamp.


Disclaimer: As a Madera Outdoor Ambassador, I received the Waterproof Ultralight Travel Backpack at great discount to test and review.

10 Ways to Save Money While Traveling

Take a quick look at your bucket list. If you’re anything like me, the list grows every year. I start the year with grand ambitions to travel and explore. Unfortunately, there is a very distinct limiting factor: my wallet.

Travelling can be expensive, especially when airfare is involved. Here are some tips and tricks to reduce the cost.

  • Grocery stores and picnics are wonderful. When you travel, limit how often you eat out. Instead, grab supplies from local grocery stores and farmer’s markets. If you are someplace new, like Hawaii or abroad, grocery stores can be a lot of fun! What’s more, if you have your meals with you, you don’t have to interrupt your activities to find a place to eat.
Hostels are a great way to meet people and save money, such as the Waikiki Beachside Hostel (now sadly closed due to COVID).
  • Research your housing options before you go. Hotels can really increase the cost of a trip. Take the time to research before you go. Prioritize what it is you need in your accommodations. Is this just a base camp while you explore, or will you be spending extended time there? Do you need to be in city central, or can you commute a little bit for your adventures? Research across different websites to find the best deal. I’ve found some incredible options through AirBnB and VRBO. Don’t count out hostels, either. If you don’t mind sharing a room, you can get some wonderful deals and meet fascinating people from around the world.
  • Pack light. I’ve discussed packing light before. Not only is it easier to navigate, but you’ll be saving bag check costs. If you will be returning home with souvenirs, bring a collapsible duffle bag to check on the plane ride home. That way you only need to check a bag one way.
  • Go in the off season. This is a big one. If your job and life allows it, going in the off season will save you a lot of money. Not only will accommodations and plane tickets be less expensive, but there’ll be fewer tourists at your destination.
  • Fly in an off time. The bulk of travelers book their plane tickets to leave Thursday, Friday, or Sunday. If you fly early in the week, you’ll be able to score cheaper plane tickets.
  • Check out Wifi-To-Go. Are you traveling abroad? Kelly Lack, the content and community lead at Spot suggests Wifi-To-Go. “Little, rentable mobile routers — nicknamed ‘pocket WiFi’ — are becoming more available in places like Europe and Japan. Typically you reserve one, then pick it up at the airport or have it delivered to your hotel. They cost a low per-day fee, and will save you from international roaming charges, paying for hotel WiFi if it’s not gratis, or having to buy a coffee every time you want to use a cafe’s WiFi but you realize that it’s password protected so you can’t ‘borrow’ it from outside.
I usually budget for one or two special drinks per trip, such as this Mai Tai from Universal Studios Hollywood.
  • Drink responsibly. Alcoholic drinks are expensive everywhere. If you are in a high-tourist area, the alcoholic drinks will be even more expensive. Go easy on the drinks!
  • Leverage Free Admission Days. Most museums and attractions have free admission days, usually on Sunday or Monday. If there is a particular site you want to see, plan ahead to schedule your trip when there is free admission.
  • Chat up the locals. From accommodation hosts to baristas and farmers market vendors, locals are a wealth of knowledge. They are usually more than happy to give advice and recommendations. Not only will this give you info about local treasures, but it saves money on booking tours.
  • Create a budget and stick to it. Before you go, take a good look at your finances. After paying for your big expenses like accommodations and transportation, how much is in your food budget? How about your souvenir budget? Write some splurge money into your budget. A lot of people like using the envelope system to help keep themselves on track. Whichever budget method works for you, stick to it. Future you will thank you.

Happy Adventuring!

6 Books To Inspire Adventure

Ah, yes. The urbanism. The great advance of American society. Wide sweeping plots of asphalt. Bumper-to-bumper traffic. Box stores and Starbucks.

An inspiring landscape to say the least.

If you’re anything like me, you chaff in modern suburbia. You count down the days to your next escape from city life.

And then Corona hit. Closing outdoor spaces. Cancelling adventures.

It can be hard to find inspiration in anything these days.

Luckily, we can find a reprieve through written word. Just as it has for hundreds of years, books provide inspiration. Spark the fires of adventure. Create respite in a virus-ridden world.

The Wave by Susan Casey

The power of the sea has long held a tantalizing grip on our imagination. Stories brought back by sailors long stoked the powers of curiosity and intrigue, prompting tales of monstrous ocean creatures. For centuries, stories of monsters included titan waves. Standing hundreds of feet tall, these aquatic titans seem to laugh at the laws of physics.

But these gargantuan waves left the realm of fantasy in February of 2000 when a British research boat was caught in a a vortex of epic proportions.

Join Susan Casey, an adventuring journalist, as she chases mammoth waves and the surfers who ride them. Casey weaves a story of research and fearlessness, detailing both destructive tsunamis and the legendary surfer Laird Hamilton, who seeks to tame the giants under his surfboard.

Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer

Jon Krakauer is an adventure journalist. An avid mountaineer, he regularly seeks out adventure in the backcountry. This thirst for adventure brought him to Mount Everest in 1996. Little did he know that this would be one of the deadliest disasters ever recorded on Mount Everest. Krakauer detailed his experience in the disaster in Into Thin Air.

Krakauer was writing a magazine article, which brought him to the Everest base camp to report on the commercialization of the mountain. However, as he prepared for the trip, his childhood desire to climb the mountain grew stronger. He joined an expedition led by Rob Hall. A blizzard struck as they descended from the peak, leading to the death of eight climbers.

This book is a tale of caution and respect for the power of nature. As Krakauer said in the book, “The plain truth is that I knew better but went to Everest anyway. And in doing so I was a party to the death of good people, which is something that is apt to remain on my conscience for a very long time.”

A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson

This autobiographical account follows Bill Bryson and his friend Stephen Katz as they attempt to hike the Appalachian Trail in 1998. Bryson is fascinated by the Appalachian Trail, which runs close to his home. The trail is home to breathtaking views, beautiful forests, serene lakes, and gorgeous mountains. What hikers wouldn’t want to traverse it?

Upon starting their hiking challenge, Bryson and Katz immediately run into problems. They quickly discover that they are sorely underprepared. Between the rugged terrain, huge distance, and their physical shape, Bryson and Katz were in for the challenge of their lives.

A Walk In The Woods is filled with science, colorful characters and raw challenges, all told with the lens of Bryson’s wry humor. It’s the perfect story to inspire your next great adventure. Just try to avoid the bears.

The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon by David Grann

Percy Fawcett was a true Victorian adventurer. Fascinated with the unknown, Fawcett’s curiosity was piqued when he discovered a document known as Manuscript 512. Believed to be written by João da Silva Guimarães, a Portuguese bandeirante, it described a lost city deep in the Amazon jungle. Descriptions of huge arches, magnificent statues, and mysterious hieroglyphics proved too tempting for Fawcett. On his second expedition into the Amazon in 1925, Fawcett and his son disappeared into the unforgiving Amazon, never to be seen again.

In the decades to follow, countless explorers and scientists attempted to find any trace of Fawcett and his lost city. David Grann follows the excavations of archaeologist Michael Heckenberger as he unearths the mysteries of at the Amazon Xingu region. There’s a strong possibility that his might be the site of the Lost City of Z.

The book draws on history, science, and intrigue as Grann weaves the story of Fawcett with modern excavations. It’s a perfect book for the reader who’s sense of adventure is tantalized by the unknown of the Amazon.

Shadow Divers by Robert Kurson

Shadow Divers follows the adventures of deep wreck divers, John Chatterton and Richie Kohler, as the explore an unmarked WWII German submarine wreck off the coast of New Jersey. Sitting 230 feet below the water’s surface, exploring this wreck is wrought with danger. The divers must deal with immense pressure, hallucinations from their air mix, and entanglement as they navigate through the wreckage.

The submarine wreck was filled with mystery. There were no identifying marks on the sub and very few artifacts to retrieve. The experts, historians, and government officials were puzzled. By all accounts, the wreck shouldn’t exist.

Shadow Divers follows the six year journey to uncover the secrets held within the wreck. The divers suffered tragic loss, fizzling relationships, and hair-raising danger. As Goodreads said, “the story of Shadow Divers often seems too amazing to be true, but it all happened, two hundred thirty feet down, in the deep blue sea.”

The Quest for Life in Amber by George and Roberta Poinar

If you are a dinosaur fan, you are likely very familiar with the story of Jurassic Park. InGen begins extracting dinosaur DNA from ancient mosquitoes encased in amber, populating a zoo full of cloned dinosaurs. Could that actually happen in real life?

The Quest for Life in Amber follows the adventures of George and Roberta Poinar, revolutionary genetic researchers studying ancient DNA. The Poinar’s quest for amber takes them to all corners of the globe. They encounter trigger-happy black marketers, eccentric collectors, and brilliant scientists. They hike to quarries, visit distant museums, and small bazaars. All in a quest to find well-preserved amber for study. Their obsession led to the creation of a brand-new field of study in paleo-DNA.

If you are a travelling dinosaur enthusiast, this is the book for you!


Have you read any of the books on this list? Did I miss your favorite book? Let me know in the comments below!

Gear Review: Why I am in LOVE with my Pacsafe Venturesafe Pack

[This is NOT a paid review. I am NOT paid by Pacsafe or REI to review my Pacsafe. This is just a piece of gear that I love and want to share with all of you.]

Last year, I had a problem. I was going on a trip to Oahu and my tried-and-true travel pack had finally worn out. After years of adventures and exploration, my trusted travelling partner finally retired. It is hard to replace such a beloved companion. I had grown accustomed to the pocket configuration, straps, and features.

Leading up to my trip, I conducted many interviews, but each candidate wasn’t able to make the cut. It wasn’t the right size. It had too many pockets. I didn’t have enough pockets. I didn’t like the straps. The material wasn’t durable enough.

But then, just as I was about to lose hope, the image of a certain, purple pack graced my computer screen. I rubbed my eyes. It seemed too good to be true. But there it was.

Mere days before my trip, I came home with my new partner in crime: Pacsafe Venturesafe EXP45 Carry-On Travel Pack.

Materials400D ECONYL® regenerated nylon dobby (main material) 150D Recycled polyester(lining)
Weight3 lb 13 oz / 1.73 kg
Dimensions(H x W x D):21.7 x 13.8 x 8.7 in / 55 x 35 x 22 cm
Volume45 L / 2746 in3
Strap LengthBackpack Strap Length (Max – Min) 92-64 cm / 36.2-25.2 in
Check-On FriendlyYes
Laptop ComparmentYes, fits 15″ Laptop
Specs for Pacsafe Venturesafe EXP45 Carry-On Travel Pack. Info from REI.com and PACSAFE.com
This Venturesafe reminds me of the TARDIS: it seems larger on the inside than the outside. I am always amazed at how much it really can hold.

I’ve been a fan of Pacsafe products for years. I love their low-key safety features, including cut-resistant fabric and lockable zippers. Despite the extra safety features, their products are not much heavier than standard equivalents, making it easy to cart around all day as you explore.

The Venturesafe met all of my Pacsafe expectations, with the incorporated eXomesh stainless-steel wire mesh, wire-reinforced straps, lockable, and puncture-resistant double. It isn’t unusual for me to stay at hostels. Not all hostels offer lockers, so the extra safety features really put my mind at ease. I am able to lock up my stuff at night and while I’m away from my bag without the fear of someone cutting open my bag or running away with it.

A lot of research went into this pack. It is incredibly traveler friendly. The main compartment is spacious with a two-tiered compression system. On its maiden voyage, I first spent a week on Oahu before flying out to Tahoe National Forest for another three days. My pack was able to carry everything I needed from a tropical island to a snowy mountain top and still have room for souvenirs. While part of the packing success for that trip is in the gear I choose to bring, Venturesafe’s compression system made the whole process a lot easier. The internal compression straps compress your luggage vertically from top to bottom. After you zip up your luggage, four compression straps along the sides of the pack further compress your luggage. This keeps it secure and compact.

The Venturesafe has a back support that stiffens as you load the pack. This keeps the pack lightweight, while still providing support for a fully-packed bag. I have carried around my fully-loaded pack for several hours, from airports to cities. The lumbar support, chest strap, and tuckable hip belts were a life (and back) saver.

I found my Pacsafe pack on REI’s outlet website. The icing on the cake for me was that the last available color was purple. I try to color code my gear so I can see what is mine at a glance. Most of my gear is purple and orange. This particular pack was simply meant to be.

The Pacsafe Venturesafe has become my go-to travel pack. I can’t wait to see what adventures await us on the horizon!

Read more about the Pacsafe Venturepack on Pacsafe’s website.

Are you an enlightened bean? An inside look at Buddha’s Cup coffee tour and tasting.

Like many people, I have a great fondness for coffee. My parents were something of coffee connoisseurs growing up, so I quickly learned about the differences in coffee roasts, beans, and brewing techniques. I earned my college degrees behind a laptop at coffee shops. Today, I find great pleasure and comfort with a cup of hot coffee.

As Hugh Jackman said, “To me, the smell of fresh-made coffee is one of the greatest inventions.”

Needless to say, my coffee obsession bleeds into my travel adventures (if you hadn’t already figured that out by now). When my travels took me to the Big Island of Hawai’i, it was a given that I would need to try the famous Kona coffee. Luckily, I had a perfect coffee in mind.

I have followed Buddha’s Cup on social media for years. I was charmed by the many colorful pictures and stories they share. Every day, I looked forward to seeing pictures of trees, animals, and roasting. I learned about harvesting and different types of coffee. I lived vicariously through their accounts.

When planning our Hawai’i trip, my mom and I found that Buddha’s Cup was open for tours and tastings, all while maintaining COVID safety parameters. And so, on a beautiful Monday morning, we piled into the car and drove into the hills above Kona-Kailua to visit Buddha’s Cup.

Buddha’s Cup is known for their gourmet coffee. They offer six different brands in their coffee lineup: Buddha’s Cup, Imagine, Kona Kulana Farms, Kona Gold, Manny’s Brew, and BluGro Hawai’i. The company is dedicated to maintaining an eco-friendly farm. All of their coffee is grown, processed, and roasted on site. Each brand has won numerous awards and certificates, including Kona Cupping, Hawaii Coffee Association, the Olympic Awards in Greece, Cream of the Crop, and more.

Buddha’s Cup visitor center sits at the top of a 100 acre lot of land overlooking the ocean. The visitor building itself is as chock full of personality as their social media. From the front, the building would be at home in a national park with its rustic, hand-painted open sign. The brown siding and white trim contrast the large, bright yellow sign welcoming visitors to Buddha’s Cup. But if you walk around the side, you’ll find an open patio with benches that overlook the farm. The siding here features a colorful Hawaiian landscape, complete with goats, dogs, horses, and, of course, their mascot parrot.

From first stepping foot on the farm, the team was very friendly and helpful. Since they were running a bit behind schedule, they made sure that Mom and I were settled comfortably with a cup of tea as we waited.

Mom and I had a fabulous time on the tour. Don’t worry: we just took off the masks for the photo.

Before long, Mom and I were strapped into an ATV and we were off with our guide to see the five farms that make up Buddha’s Cup.

Hands down, this was one of the best tours I have ever taken. Our tour guide was extremely knowledgeable and excited about the botany behind coffee farming.

Along the tour, we were able to see the different farms and learn about local Hawiian ecology. The farms are located at the edge of an ancient Ohia Forest. Ohia Trees are one of the first colonizing plants after a volcanic lava flow. The trees break up the rock, allowing more plants to grow and flourish. The trees live 400-500 years. The trees around the farms were nearing the end of their life cycle, but the ecosystem they cultivated will live on for generations to come.

There is a Blue Jade vine just outside the visitor’s center.

Our tour guide took the time to point out a rare flower. Located just outside the visitor’s center, the Blue Jade vine that is native to the Phillipines. The vine itself is very thick and woody. The flower grows in large bunches of 50 to 100 flowers. It is a favorite flower in leis.

Each of the five farms produces coffee beans with unique tastes. There are two main types of coffee cultivation: full sun and shaded. The oldest farm in the plantation, Kona Kulana, was established in 1987 and purchased by Buddha’s Cup in the mid 2000’s. In the 1970’s, coffee farmers primarily planted their coffee trees in full sun. The idea was that the trees would increase their production. However, they later learned that this had a negative impact on the environment and affected the taste of the coffee. Full-sun coffee plots are clear-cut, thus reducing habitat and isolating the trees from natural pest control. The coffee beans from full-sun coffee trees has a harsher, bitter taste.

Most of the coffee farms were shaded by trees, such as this cinnamon tree.

The other three farms, Buddha’s Cup, Imagine, and Kona Gold, are shaded. Natural coffee trees grow under the rainforest canopy. Traditional coffee farming imitates the tree’s preference. While shaded, coffee cherries grow slower, allowing for the natural sugars to improve the flavor of the resulting bean. This results is a smoother, sweeter drink.

As the farmers at Buddha’s Cup continued to cultivate their farms, they made an unexpected discovery. The trees that were planted to shade the coffee trees impacted the taste of the coffee bean. As the trees’ roots intertwined underground, the coffee bean would integrate some of the taste from its neighbors. This was first observed in Buddha’s Cup, as the farm is intermingled with macadamia trees. Then they found the same effect with cinnamon trees. Thus, the biodiversity of the farm, coupled with elevation and amount of shade drastically changed the flavor of the resulting coffee.

After our tour, we headed back inside for our coffee tasting. We were seated on a lovely lanai (covered porch) near the windows overlooking the back plot. We were able to try each of the different of the five brands of coffee. It was incredible how differently each of the coffee tasted! The shaded coffee was much smoother than the sun-farmed Kona Kulana. The coffee that was planted with macadamia trees had a richer taste, with nutty undertones. The coffee trees planted with cinnamon trees had a sweeter undertone.

As we tasted each of the coffee brands, we were served chocolate covered macadamia nuts and coffee cherries. I’ve had chocolate covered coffee beans before, but chocolate covered coffee cherries are amazing! The sugars on the cherry give it a sweeter taste and help cut the sharp bitterness associated with coffee beans.

If that wasn’t enough, we were served a sample of Buddha’s Cup’s homemade rum cake and Manny’s mango chutney. Oh. My. Goodness. I pride myself on my culinary skills, but those appetizers were out of this world! My greatest wish is that Manny will publish a cookbook with those recipes.

Our tasting experienced was concluded with a cup of hibiscus tea to help counteract the caffeine from our coffee. The hibiscus tea had a delightful cinnamon flavor. Now I’ve been a fan of hibiscus blended teas for years, ever since I befriended an Egyptian coffee house barista. But my mom is a different story. She normally avoids hibiscus teas and blends, citing that the flavor is too strong. However, this tea was different. She relished the entire cup.

The entire experience was wonderful. Mom and I sat in our corner of the lanai, watching the early afternoon rain outside as we sipped our drinks and enjoyed each other’s company.


I had been looking forward to visiting Buddha’s Cup for years. I was concerned that the experience would not live up to my expectations. I was right. My expectations were blown out of the water! Between chatting with the lovely Buddha’s Cup team to exploring the farms and tasting the coffee tea, Buddha’s Cup was a definitely highlight of the trip. I can’t wait to visit again!

Check out Buddha’s Cup ONLINE and on their INSTAGRAM. You won’t be disappointed!


Want to read more about my coffee adventures? Check out the 4 Best Coffee Shops in Monterey and 5 of the Best Hidden Gems Around LA.

Is your sunscreen killing coral? The importance of reef-safe sunscreen

The day is finally here: travel restrictions to Hawaii have begun to lift. Now, Hawaii is foregoing a two week quarantine for visitors who provide negative test results from within 72 hours of their trip. On October 15, the first day of the new travel restrictions, Hawaii welcomed 8,000 visitors. Given this year, who wouldn’t want to get away to a tropical island? But as you excitedly begin to pack for your trip, don’t forget to check that you are bringing reef-safe sunscreen. 

Hawaii is home to two of the greatest diversity ecosystems: tropical rainforests and coral reefs. Coral reefs only make up 2% of the world’s oceans, yet are nurseries for 25% of all species of marine life. Scientists believe that there are billions of undiscovered species living in the reefs.

The high level of biodiversity in the reefs is believed to hold the key to discovering new medicines. Coral reef life has developed chemical means of self defence. These compounds are vital in the development of new drugs. This research has already led to the development of new medicines to treat cancer, arthritis, human bacterial infections, Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease, viruses, and other diseases.

Outside of medicinal and ecological importance, coral reefs are integral to economic stability. Coral reefs support healthy fisheries as well as tourism and recreation-based industries. About half of all federally-funded fisheries depend on the reefs for a portion of their life cycles. According to the National Marine Fisheries Service, the commercial value of U.S. fisheries from coral reefs values over $100 million.

Local economies depend on coral reefs to bring in tourists and sell services, products, and hospitality. Think of all the scuba diving trips, paddling, fishing trips, hotels, restaurants, souvenir shops… the list goes on.

Without their symbiotic algae, corals turn white. Photo from The Australian Institute of Marine Science.

The coral reefs are in terrible danger. Scientists predict that in 30 to 50 years, most of the coral reefs will be gone. Global warming and ocean acidification has led to wide-spread coral bleaching. When corals are under extreme stress, they turn white as they expel the algae (zooxanthellae) that live in their tissues. The coral is not dead at this point, but in a severe, delicate state. The zooxanthellae living with the coral provide the coral with vital nutrients through photosynthesis. Without these nutrients, the coral can starve to death and is more susceptible to disease. 

Okay, I can hear you saying. I get it. The coral reefs are really important and are indange. What does that have to do with the type of sunscreen I use?

While coral reefs are in danger from global warming and habitat destruction from ocean floor trawling, they can also be poisoned by our sunscreens.

Sunscreens use a number of active ingredients, including oxybenzone or BP-3. When we swim, our sunscreen washes off into the water and begins to interact with the local ecosystem.

Green Algae: Can impair growth and photosynthesis.

Coral: Accumulates in tissues. Induces coral bleaching. Causes permanent DNA damage, impacting growth and reproduction. Can be fatal.

Mussels: Can induce defects in young.

Sea Urchins: Damages immune and reproductive systems and deforms young. 

Fish: Decreases fertility and reproduction, and induces female characteristics in male fish.

Dolphins: Can accumulate in tissue and be transferred to young.

Infographic from NOAA

BP-3 is toxic in small quantities, but tourism introduces the chemical into the marine ecosystem in large quantities. ABC News reported that, “in many cases, local infrastructure is strained, waste treatment is mismanaged and as a result, natural habitats are destroyed. In tropical areas such as Kahalu’u Bay on the Big Island of Hawaii, the nearly 400,000 visitors and beachgoers per year has resulted in a steady stream of chemical pollutants commonly found in sunscreens and lotions being introduced to local waters.” 

Want to make a difference? Switch to reef-safe sunscreen with natural ingredients like zinc oxide and titanium oxide. Most packaging will call out reef-safe products. 

Kahalu’u Bay on the Big Island of Hawaii. Photo from Wikipedia.

Let’s look at Kahalu’u Bay again. The Kohala Center launched a “Reef-Safe Friendly Protection” campaign. Tens of thousands of visitors took the campaign to heart and made the switch. Between April, 2018 and November, 2019, oxybenzone levels dropped by 93%. That is a huge improvement! According to Cindi Punihaole, director of The Kohala Center’s Kahalu‘u Bay Education Center, “What these results show is that community stewardship works. We are able to have meaningful conversations with hundreds of visitors every day to let them know about the damaging effects chemical sunscreens and physical contact with corals can have on our vulnerable reefs… A significant majority of our guests are unaware and want to do the right thing, they just need to be shown how.”

You can make a difference, too. As you prepare for your next ocean excursion or an afternoon of riparian entertainment, grab a bottle of reef-safe sunscreen. The coral reefs will thank you.

4 Best Coffee Shops in Monterey

A warm cup of dark coffee. Patrons at tables chatting, reading, and typing away at their laptops. The smell of bakery goods and ground coffee beans wafting through the air. The excitement of claiming the worn-out, comfy chairs near the window.

I am all about the coffee house experience. Some of my best memories are at coffee houses with my friends or engrossed in a good book. Both of my thesis papers were largely written and researched in coffee houses. There is not much that beats an afternoon spent at an independent coffee shop. The only thing better than a coffee shop is a coffee shop on the coast.

I lived in Monterey for eight years. During that time, I explored all of the coffee shops to identify the best ones on the peninsula. Sadly, many of my all-time favorite haunts are no longer in business (RIP Coffee Bar), but there are still so many wonderful independent shops! Put these coffee shops on your itinerary the next time you visit Monterey.

Coffee Bar

Good coffee, indoor/outdoor seating, limited power outlets, WIFI

Coffee Bar is a staple of Monterey. Located off the beaten track in Marina, this local favorite has some of the best ambiance around. Run by Horace, you are always greeted with a hearty greeting and an excellent cup of coffee. 

Are you a fan of sweet Italian roast coffee? It is my dad’s favorite. Sadly, it’s hard to find. As you can imagine, he was ecstatic when he discovered that Coffee Shop offered sweet Italian roast. Whenever he would visit, we could have a coffee morning at Coffee Bar with our pour-over sweet Italian roast coffee.

But coffee is only half of it. Horace provides a full menu of pastries from a local Parisian bakery, soups, sandwiches, salads. If you are there just for a morning coffee or a full lunch meal, Coffee Bar has you covered.

Cafe Lumiere

Good coffee, indoor/outdoor seating, power outlets, WIFI

SADLY, CAFE LUMIERE BECAME ANOTHER CASULTY OF THE GLOBAL PANDEMIC. THIS WONDERFUL COFFEE SHOP CLOSED ITS DOORS ON NOVEMBER 8, 2020.

This is easily one of the most unique coffee shops. Settled in the heart of downtown Monterey, Cafe Lumiere is attached to the Osio Theater, a small, independent movie theater. When you walk inside, you are hit with the smell of coffee, pastries, and buttered popcorn. Cafe Lumiere has wonderful seating and power options, a boon for college students. If the lower-level is filled, you can sit in their loft or on their shaded patio.

In the mood for a beer? Lumiere has a decent selection of alcohol to pair with delicious pastries, sandwiches, and salads.

Plumes Coffee & Tea

Good coffee, indoor seating, limited power outlets, WIFI

Plumes is an adorable corner coffee shop in downtown Monterey. If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to score a seat in their box window, giving your easy access to power outlets and a view outside. 

Plumes offers a wide variety of drinks and food, from coffee and tea to smoothies and boba. Their food selection has expanded in recent years beyond your typical pastries and fruit to include sandwiches and paninis. 

Plumes is a local favorite, so it isn’t unusual for seating to fill up quickly.

East Village Coffee Lounge

Good coffee, fun ambiance, indoor/outdoor seating, power outlets, WIFI

East Village is a really fun coffee shop located in old Monterey above Fisherman’s Warf. This corner coffee shop is hard to miss with its stone facade and pink sign. East Village is a bit darker inside than the other coffee shops on this list, making it ideal for working on laptops. 

East Village offers a great selection of seating, from tables to couches and overstuffed chairs. Unlike most coffee shops, East Village veers away from a single, open-floor plan. Instead, it is divided up into several rooms. The main room, where you order your food and drink, features a fireplace. I love going to East Village on a foggy or rainy day and curling up in front of the fireplace with a hot drink and a book.

Many local bands and musicians play in the evenings at East Village. Some of the talent is better than others, but it always makes for a fun night.

When you visit Monterey, I’m sure you’ll go to the beach, the Monterey Bay Aquarium, and Fisherman’s Warf. Just don’t forget to schedule a few coffee shop hours to recharge.

16 Best Tips and Tricks for Solo Women Adventurers

Freya Stark, a British explorer and travel writer, once said, “To awaken quite alone in a strange town is one of the pleasantest sensations in the world. You are surrounded by adventure.

I most heartily agree. I am an adventurer and explorer myself. The adventures that find me with a travelling companion are far and few between, more so with each passing year. Life makes it difficult to coordinate schedules, agree on destinations, lodging, and food. Don’t even get me started on choosing road music.

Don’t get me wrong, some of my fondest memories are trips with friends and family. But lately I have come to appreciate the simplicity and unique experiences one can only find by walking a lonely road alone.

I compared notes with other accomplished solo adventurers. Here are our best tips and tricks for your next trip!

When backpacking, make sure you are prepared for any situation.

1. Be daring, but prepared.

So you want to go on that backpacking trip. You’re ready to hop on a plane to the Polynesian Islands. The open road is calling for a cross-country road trip.

Those are all amazing trips and require a sense of daring and adventure! But while you are daring, you must also be prepared. Do your research (good on you for starting that by reading this blog). Be prepared for an emergency.

What will you do if you get really sick on the trail? What if you get into a car accident?

There are some amazing programs to assist you. Organizations like Medjet and MedjetHorizon provide medical transportation. Many smart watches have a sudden impact feature that automatically calls emergency services in case of an accident.

Be prepared so you can be adventurous.

2. Understand the Culture

Chinese lion dancing is an important cultural centerpiece.
What do you do if a lion gives you an orange?

As Elizabeth at Awesome Wave commented, “Too often I see conflict, misunderstanding, frustration, and upset caused by lack of or mis-understanding of cultural differences. When one starts to learn about other cultures one begins to find means to compromise, understand, seek solutions and work towards peaceful encounters.

When you travel, it is important to do some research before hand. Not only will you avoid misunderstandings, but you won’t feel like a fish out of water. It’s important to note that cultural differences extend within the borders of your own country, too. Don’t disregard cultural differences if you travel domestically!

3. Tell someone at home your travel plans.

My dad is both my adventure buddy and my emergency line.

This is another safety detail. It’s a good idea to tell a trusted friend or family member what your plans are. Check in with them occasionally, especially if your plans change. That way if something goes wrong, someone knows where you should be and your last location.

My good friend, Sara L., suggested, “Always have a check in and a message to send if something is wrong, like a code word. Meaning one person that you trust should know where you are and know if you need help.”

Depending on your trip, you might consider investing in a SPOT or a Garmin InReach. Both of these devices allow you to call for emergency assistance, have limited 2-way communication, and allow you to digitally check-in with your trusted friend or family member.

4. Talk!

I never would have found the Poi Factory if I didn’t chat with the locals.

I’m a pretty introverted person. I don’t generally go out of my way to talk to people, preferring to enjoy my book and a cup of tea. When I first started travelling alone I maintained my distance and silence. However, I quickly learned the importance of talking to those around me.

First, for safety. The more people who are familiar with you and recognize you, the better. Second, that’s how you know where all the good stuff is. I would have never found the Poi Factory on Oahu without chatting up the locals.

If you have a hard time striking up a conversation with the local barista, check out what events, gatherings, or tours are offered at your destination. Many hostels, hotels, and city programs host a variety of events where you can meet new people.

That said, exercise good judgement and only meet people in public places. Don’t overshare your private information and don’t tell a stranger where you are staying.

5. Keep an open mind.

It doesn’t matter if you’re going to Chicago, England, or Indonesia. You’ll always find something new. You’ll find the unexpected. You’ll find the adventure.

My most interesting travelling experiences happened because I was willing to go out of my comfort zone. It’s easy to be confident when you stay in tourist areas where things are familiar and everyone speaks English. But to step outside of those few blocks brings you into a different world. That’s where you find the real world. The local haunts. The lodgings. The interesting activities. Nikki Misurelli commented, “A smile (and Google Translate) can go a long way, even if you don’t speak the same language.”

6. Plan something special.

My special plan on my Oahu trip was to visit Kualoa Ranch.

When visiting a new place, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. There are so many things to do! Cool places to see! Food to eat!

When I travel, I plan one big special thing. That helps me focus my trip and provide a center point for the rest of my planning.

I am a huge Jurassic Park buff. The first time I visited Oahu, I knew that I needed to see where they filmed the movies. Not only did this give me a launch point, but it helped me decide when and where I wanted to explore the island. From the Kualoa Ranch (where the filming happened), I was able to have a picnic lunch across the street at the Kualoa Regional Park and slowly make my way back to Honolulu. This set the tone for the rest of the trip and gave me a centerpiece for planning the adventure.

That something special doesn’t need to be a “big” thing. My special plan for my last trip to Santa Barbara was order Hawaiian shaved ice from ParadICE on State Street. When I went to Florence, OR, I was excited to go sandboarding for an afternoon. On one of my trips to San Francisco, I walked across the Golden Gate Bridge.

Choosing that one “special plan” is about focusing your trip and making memories. Don’t base your plan around what will look good on Instagram, but on what is important to you.

7. Research! Research! Research!

Read up on your destination before you go.

Read up on your destination ahead of time. The more you know before you go, the more confident you’ll be on your trip. Are there any coffee shops in walking distance to your lodgings? What’s the climate like? Do you need to be wary of pickpockets? What are some locations you’d like to visit?

A good guide book and map can go a long ways. Guide books can help you focus your research and often give you great resources for when you get to your destination. You can highlight or mark areas of interest. Then you know what do look into further and what gear you need to bring. It could be the difference between bringing full hiking boots or just a pair of running sneakers.

8. Give yourself a digital break.

You’re visiting a new place. It’s fine to take pictures, but don’t watch your whole trip through the view of your phone. Experience your surroundings. It’s too easy to miss the gems when you’re distracted by technology. Facebook and Instagram will be there when you get back home.

9. Put a ring on it.

It will come to no surprise to most of you lovely readers that men with expectations are less likely to approach or harass a woman they believe is taken.

10. Pack light.

My Osprey is my go-to hiking pack for all-day adventures.

When you travel alone, you don’t have anyone to help you cart your luggage around. The less stuff you have to carry the better. You’re going to save a lot of money and will be more mobile the lighter you pack. If you have less room in your suitcase, you’re likely to bring back fewer souvenirs, and they ones you end up with are the trinkets that you really care about.

This ethos holds true to you day bag, too. Don’t forget that since you’re travelling alone, you won’t have anyone to watch you bag if you need to use the restroom in a coffee shop. You won’t have someone to hold your things while you try on clothing in the fitting rooms. The lighter the better!

11. Keep an eye on your gas gauge.

If you are driving, always gas up when you hit a quarter of a tank. You may not be familiar with the roads and gas stations, so it’s best to err on the side of caution.

12. Don’t go out drinking alone.

I’m a sucker for tiki drinks.

Alcohol can be a double-edged sword. I know like most of you that it’s really fun to try local alcoholic drinks. From the hard apple ciders in Tacoma to the tropical ciders of Hilo, it is an experience to compare different drinks. But it’s important not to overdo it. If you’re travelling alone, you don’t have anyone to take care of you if you get drunk. It is easy to get into an unfortunate situation while intoxicated.

Sandy N. mused, “I personally love and enjoy [partying and drinking], however if I’m traveling alone, I’ll buy a bottle of wine and have a chill evening at wherever I’m staying, using that time to write in travel journal or what not.”

13. Zippers are your best friend

SF is a hotspot for pick pockets. Whenever I visit the city, my pockets have zippers and are kept closed.

Unfortunately, pick pocketing is a thing. It doesn’t matter if you are travelling abroad or domestically. If there is an opportunity, then thieves will strike. Franni P. recalled, “I have been on a crowded bus in Europe and someone tried to pickpocket my phone out of my front jeans pocket and I almost didn’t notice! But zippers add an extra step and can make noise to alert you. I suppose velcro would also work too!”

Thieves tend to be opportunistic. By setting up barriers and complications, they are likely to target easier prey.

On the subject of thievery, it’s also a good idea to keep money in multiple areas. That way if your wallet does get stolen, you aren’t down the creek without a paddle.

14. Leave the tourist track

Coffee Mia in Marina, CA is one of my FAVORITE places!

You’re travelling to experience something new (I hope). In planning to keep things local, not only are you supporting the local economy, but you’ll experience the culture. This is how you’ll find all the interesting shops, nooks and crannies, and adventures off the tourist track.

Let’s look at Monterey, CA. Everyone goes to Cannery Row and Carmel Beach. But did you know that there is a wonderful coffee shop in Marina called Coffee Mia (seriously… one of the best cups of sweet Italian coffee out there!)? How about the little Pacific Grove Natural History Museum? Why go to an over-crowded beach when you can chill with the locals and have open fire pits at night? You won’t find any of those things if you stick to Cannery Row and the well-known hotels.

15. Survive the flight

I personally love flying, but will admit it isn’t the most comfortable mode of transportation.

Planes are a marvel. They truly have made the earth a small world after all. Sadly, plane travel is not the most comfortable means of transportation. Crammed in narrow rows. The A/C blasting with its sharp recycled smell. Sitting uncomfortably close to strangers.

It can take a toll.

Be mindful of what you carry. Remember that you won’t have anyone to watch your stuff when you get a cup of coffee or use the restroom before the flight, so pack light.

When you’re on the plane, bring some light snacks and some refreshing items like deodorant and a hair brush. My secret weapon for long plane rides: breath mints.

16. Listen to your instincts

Have you ever had that knot in your stomach? Something felt wrong but you didn’t know what?

When travelling alone, listen to your gut. Humans are excellent at identifying patterns. We do it without thinking about it. So if something seems off, remove yourself from the situation. You’ll be glad you did.

You never know what adventures you’ll find!

What travelling tips and tricks have you learned over the years? Let me know in the comments below!

Don’t Be Fooled! The Importance of Accreditation in Zoos

Zoos are a common destination, whether you are a human or a dinosaur.

They seem like once-in-a-lifetime opportunities. Who wouldn’t want to play with a tiger cub? Or swim with dolphins? Or ride an elephant? It’s the perfect Instagram picture or story to tell at Christmas.

Roadside menageries are reminiscent of first zoos. People have kept private collections of wild animals for thousands of years. These menageries began as a means to showcase power and wealth. Artifacts and wall carvings from Egypt and Mesopotamia show evidence of menageries from as early as 2500 BC. They tell tales of expeditions into distant lands to bring back exotic animals like elephants, giraffes, birds, monkeys, and dolphins. These ancient zoos, like their modern equivalents, hired handlers to care for their animals.

Modern zoos first began to emerge in the 18th century. During the Age of Enlightenment, zoos became a vessel for zoological research. Scientists began to want to learn more about animals and ecology. Zoos allowed them to study anatomy and behavior. Around this time, animal enclosures began to resemble their natural habitats rather than stark cages.

These early zoos resembled living museums. While enclosures were designed to look like a natural setting, they were very small. The zoos were crammed with as many different species as was possible. The purpose of zoos at the time was to showcase as many different animals to the public as possible.

Today, there are many different types of zoos. Some still resemble the zoos from the Age of Enlightenment. Others took the steps needed to value animal welfare over animal quantity. All of these zoos have radically differing views on the purpose of a zoo and how the animals are to be treated and housed. Some zoos focus on profit and entertainment while others are dedicated to education and conservation.

But how can you tell the difference?

I know you’re thinking about when you binge-watched Tiger King a few months ago. The docuseries made it pretty clear that many of these roadside attractions do not provide their animals with adequate care. But some offenders were more obvious than others. Luckily, zoo accreditation can provide some insight.

Most zoos are accredited by different third-party organizations. The accrediting organization speaks volumes to the level of care of the animals and ongoing mission of the zoo. The type of accreditation gives insight to what goes on behind the scenes, rules about breeding and enrichment, the level of contact with animals, education parameters, the type of research permitted, and the level of dedication to conservation efforts.

There are three main accrediting organizations in the United States:

  • The Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). AZA is considered to be the most prestigious accreditation, known in the industry at the gold standard. AZA accreditation is a long and pricey process, which is limiting for many small facilities. You can read all of the parameters here, but AZA boils down to research-based animal care and husbandry, proactive conservation, and a dedication to education. As Rachel Garner of “Why Animals Do The Thing” described, “A facility that has an AZA accreditation has been measured against the professional standards and best practices in the field and has been found to uphold them.”
  • The Zoological Association of America (ZAA). ZAA is the second-most-common accreditation found in the US. ZAA accreditation is a less expensive process, making it more accessible for small facilities. The biggest difference between AZA and ZAA is the opinion of contactless-based husbandry with animals, most notably elephants. Protected contact, which is promoted by AZA, is when there is a barrier between a handler and the animal. Free contact allows the handler and animal to share the same unrestricted space. ZAA writes that “While ZAA does not promote ‘protected contact’, we believe that decision regarding protected contact with elephants should be left to the governing body of each organization.” Depending on the facility, ZAA can choose to allow full contact (with restrictions, of course) experiences for guests with Crocodylia, carnivores, some chimpanzees, gibbons, and gorillas, elephants, rhinos, and some constrictors. Some zoo facilities choose to switch from AZA to ZAA accreditation in order to maintain their guest animal experience programs. However, ZAA prohibits guest interactions with baby Class I animals, which notably includes great primates, many big cats, wolves, elephants, and rhinos. See a full list of Class I animals here. ZAA dictates, “ZAA does acknowledge that there may be circumstances in which a facility can present a baby, juvenile or program animal to the public for photos and encounters in a reasonable, but intermittent manner. Those animals would be a part of the facility’s management collection plan and would not be part of a revolving door business of animal encounters/photos for a fee.”
  • The Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries (GFAS). Unlike AZA and ZAA, GFAS focuses on accrediting sanctuaries, rescue centers, and rehabilitation centers. These facilities require a different type of oversight and parameters due to their different mission. The animals housed at these facilities are not there due to internal breeding programs or education. Rather, these animals are rescues, some from the wild others from private owner environments. The end goal of these animals differs from case to case. Some animals are able to be released, while others find their way to other zoos and aquariums. Still others live out their lives at the rescue facility or sanctuary. It is important to note that the term “rescue” can be used by anyone, even if they have no proof of actually rescuing animals or professional background. “Rescue” is often used to legitimize private endeavors and roadside attractions. Before supporting or visiting a rescue facility, it’s very important to look up their accreditations. As GFAS says, “Not all sanctuaries are created equal. Animal care is a poorly regulated industry, and thousands of organizations worldwide which describe themselves as “sanctuaries” or “rescues” do not provide quality or humane care for their animals. For all people invested in the welfare of captive animals, including donors, grantmakers, supporters and legislators, there is a shared desire to differentiate true sanctuaries. Through our evaluation process, GFAS can ensure that those designated as GFAS-Verified or Accredited uphold the highest standards for the animals in their care.”

Each of these organizations has different parameters, ramifications, and views of zoos. It’s important to know which accreditations align with your own standards. Before I visit a zoo or aquarium, I always look at what accreditations are held or why a facility might have lost an accreditation.

Roadside Attractions

We talked about professional zoos. Let’s talk about private menageries and roadside attractions. Yes, I’m talking about what you saw in Tiger King. Many of these small facilities don’t hold any accreditations. Now not having an accreditations doesn’t necessarily mean that the animals are mistreated, but there is no third party oversight holding the facility to specific standards. That means that these private facilities can range from high standards all the way down to shady and abusive practices.

Before supporting a non-accredited organization, it is important to have an in-depth understanding of their animals’ husbandry, daily practices, and the best practices for the industry.

Garner summed it up. “That being said, there are two major red flags for unaccredited facilities aside from obviously sub-par care and sick animals. Non-AZA facilities will never be participants in breeding programs for endangered species (called Species Survival Plans or SSPs), nor will they ever play a role in the conservation efforts led by AZA or ZAA facilities. Do not support facilities that claim these things falsely in order to boost the perception of their credibility.”

Some of these roadside attractions do hold accreditations. But it’s very important to research what that accreditations comes from. Just as the term rescue can be used loosely, so can the word accreditations. In Tiger King, Joe Exotic claimed that his facility was accredited. However, a quick internet search showed that his accreditation was purchased accreditation that did not require oversight. At the time of writing this blog article, GW Zoo has been closed and their website does not mention any accreditation.

Let’s talk about the other star in the docuseries: Carole Baskin’s Big Cat Rescue. In the series, Baskin talks about the difference between her rescue operation compared to Exotic’s menagerie. The series doesn’t film Big Cat Rescue in a bright light, but the facilities have held a GFAS accreditation since 2009. I can’t speak to any husband-murdering drama, but the facility itself does meet standards and has maintained those standards for over a decade.

What does all of this mean?

Not every small facility is a bad facility, but it is important to do your homework. If taken just from popular media, Big Cat Rescue would fall under the same category as GW Zoo and Doc Antle’s Myrtle Beach Safari. The big difference between all three of these facilities is third party accreditation. Third party evaluations means that visitors aren’t dependent on the facilities’ good word. Upholding accreditation ensures high-quality care for the animals, making the behind-the-scenes transparent. By supporting accredited facilities, you know exactly what you are supporting. You are supporting conservation, animal welfare, and education.

My Two Cents

A tiger at the Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium. Photo used with permission by Anna’s Photography: Putting You In The Spotlight.

I have been interested in zoos for as long as I can remember. I grew up wanting to be a zoo keeper, focusing on caring for elephants. I read every zoological book and magazine I could get my hands on, from Ranger Rick to Jungle Jack (Jack Hanna’s autobiography).

As I got older, I finally had the opportunity to begin volunteering at zoos. It was then that I began to research the differences between zoos and accreditations. Before I visit a zoo, I always look at the accreditation. I am a huge supporter of AZA facilities. They maintain and update their standards based on current research rather than relying on historical or profit-generating practices. Their main mission is natural conservation and education. I could list all of the stipulations required by AZA that makes their accreditation the industry gold standard, but the most important takeaway for me is how AZA values the welfare of animals over profit. This is most evident by their stance on contactless interactions. A huge money maker for many animal facilities is guest interactions with animals. Think about dolphin encounters, petting big cats, and riding elephants.

We have learned a lot over the past two decades about the impact full contact interactions (both by guests and handlers). It took us long enough. AZA has led the way in making sweeping changes across their facilities to address these concerns. These changes required zoos to cut some of their most profitable programs, such as swimming with dolphins, or making expensive renovations to facilities, like installing expensive contactless barriers in the elephant enclosures. It’s rare that we see any organization choose wellbeing over profit. That is a mission I can support.

Hawaiian Malsadas: An Island Dessert

It is no secret that I am a nerd. I love books, comics, manga, and video games. One of my very first video game franchises was Pokemon. I loved it back in 1998 with Pokemon Blue and I still love it today. Among my favorite Pokemon games are Sun and Moon. In the game, one of the characters is obsessed with malasadas. He made them sound so good!

When I first played the games, I had a vague idea that malasadas were a real food, but I had never heard of them before. Each of the Pokemon games is based off a real-life location. While the Pokemon food is often fictional (like poffins and aprijuice), the human food is often a reference to real-life local cuisine. In Pokemon Sun and Moon, the highlighted food were malasadas. My curiosity peaked, I began diving into the mystery of malasadas.

Malasadas are a suger-dusted Portuguese doughnut that are a regular treat in Hawaii. The dessert was introduced to the islands by Azores and Madeira workers in the 19th Century. There are many variations of malasadas, including original (no filling), chocolate, guava, haupia (Hawaiian coconut milk dessert), and custard. They became so popular that today, rather than celebrating Fat Tuesday with pancake dinners, Hawaiian residents recognize Malasada Day!

A few years ago I made my first trip to Oahu. One my goals was to find malasadas. Once off the plane, I made a bee-line for Leonard’s Bakery. In the weeks prior, I spent hours researching the best malasadas on Oahu. From reviews from Hawai’i Magazine to Oahu Facebook groups, blog after blog directed me to Leonard’s. Even the in-flight magazine on Hawaiian Airlines had an article about Leonard’s Bakery! All of the glowing reviews built up the hype for this small bakery. I hoped that it lived up to the hype.

In 2011, KITV helped celebrate Leonard’s Bakery’s 54th Anniversary. Watch this interview with Frank Leonard Rego Jr to see inside Leonard’s kitchen and the process to make delicious malasadas.
Leonard’s Bakery is a small establishment. There isn’t much room to eat the malasadas on site. In house eating isn’t missed, though, with all of the gorgeous city parks and beaches nearby.

For all of the attention that it receives, Leonard’s Bakery is housed in a small, unassuming building. On Kapahulu Ave about a mile and a half from the beach, Leonard’s Bakery sits at the end of a small parking lot with room for about ten cars. There are a couple of tables outside, but the majority of patrons take their goodies to go. I soon learned that long lines are a regular occurrence at Leonard’s, regardless of the time of day. Regulars were accustomed to the wait, and there was a sense of camaraderie as I took my place in line.

All of Leonard’s malasadas are made fresh to order and are well worth the wait! The fresh, hot bread almost melts in your mouth, complimented by the rich fillings. Traditional malasadas are just the deep-fried bread coated in sugar. But just as original donuts evolved into a wide range of flavors and toppings, so have malasadas. Leonard’s Bakery lets you choose your coating (none, sugar, cinnamon sugar, and li hing) as well as the filling (none, custard, dobash (chocolate), haupia, macadamia nut, and guava). All of the flavors were amazing (yes, I definitely went back many times across the trip), but my favorite combination was a sugar coated malasada filled with haupia.

After returning to the mainland, I was sad that I could not find malasadas anywhere. Not to be deterred, I took to the internet to figure out how to make them myself! After trying several recipes, I found Fix Feast Flair’s Malasada Recipe to be a pretty close comparison to the malasadas I got on the islands. Their recipe also includes instructions to make several different fillings, including chocolate, haupia, and strawberry.

My three year long quest to try malasadas, from when Pokemon Sun and Moon was first released in 2016, had come to an end. I walked away from it with an appreciation of donuts and a new favorite dessert!

Gear Review: Madera Emergency Head Lamp

As a red-clad woman once said, “The night is dark and full of terrors.”

I brought Madera’s Emergency Head Lamp with me car camping at Clear Lake State Park.

That’s why whenever I go camping, I always make sure to bring a headlamp (or two). I recently took a quick overnight camping trip at Clear Lake State Park in California. This is a pretty chill location, which means it is perfect for testing gear.

This time I brought with me one Madera’s Emergency Head Lamp. When I look for a headlamp, I look at four different categories: brightness, weight and bulk, durability, and features.

The Basics

Madera’s Emergency Head Lamp is the starting model for Madera’s headlamps. It is touted for being lightweight and packable. It takes two AAA batteries with a runtime of about 12 hours on high, 48 hours on blink.

Madera Outdoor is a company dedicated to planting trees. The purchase of one emergency head lamp plants two trees. Madera’s Emergency Head Lamp normally retails for $29.95, but at the time of writing this review it is on sale for $14.95.

Check out Madera Outdoor HERE

Brightness

This headlamp is decently bright. According to Madera’s website, the headlamp is 300 lumens. A lumen is a measure of how bright a light is. To give you an idea, a standard 40-watt lightbulb is about 400 lumens. Madera’s headlamp at 300 lumens is just a bit shy of that. According to Fenix’s website, 300 lumens is “enough for most of usage like searching human or animal at 50 meter distance, can comfortably lighting up a small room, can be used as bicycle headlight.”

The Emergency Head Lamp has three settings: high, low, and strobe. Madera does not say what the low setting lumen count is, but I would estimate that it is around 150 lumens.

In short, this headlamp is more than bright enough for most camping and backpacking purposes. I took it on a night hike across the ridge along the lake and it worked wonderfully. It was bright enough to easily make my way along the trail without too much light being reflected back.

Attaching the headlamp to the gallon of water diffused the light enough to be an excellent lantern.

As a side note, this lamp can also make a great makeshift lantern! I forgot to grab my large lantern as I was running out the door. The main problem with headlamps as a lantern is that their light is focused and intense. Thinking quickly, I set a gallon of water on top of the headlamp. This diffused the light, making a lantern that was more than sufficient to heat water and play cards.

Weight and Bulk

The Emergency Head Lamp is decently lightweight and compact. With batteries, it weighs 2 oz. In comparison, my main headlamp, a Black Diamond Spot, weighs 3 oz and has a max lumen rating of 325.

Madera’s Emergency Head Lamp does not have a rotation feature, allowing you to angle the headlamp. As such, it will always stay at the same angle, but that reduces bulk and weight.

Durability

Madera’s Emergency Head Lamp has basic durability. It doesn’t have moving parts to rotate the headlamp, so there is less to break. I have not extensively tested the headlamp’s durability, but I would be cautious before throwing it in the main compartment of a backpacking pack.

This headlamp is water resistant but not waterproof. It will be fine to use in a rainstorm, but don’t take it swimming or submerge it.

Features

This is a very basic headlamp without extraneous features. It has one job: make light. And it does that job well. However, it does not have a rotating hinge nor is it able to lock. My Black Diamond headlamp lets me lock it so that it does not accidentally turn on in my pack and run my batteries.

The Conclusion

I was pleasantly surprised by the Emergency Head Lamp. I was expecting a single-setting flimsy headlamp. However, the lamp has decent light and durability. This is not likely to be a main headlamp for me, especially since it has distinct settings instead of a dimmer feature and no red light. However, it replaced my prior back up headlamp (a Black Diamond Ion). The main think I’ll need to remember is to flip the batteries around so that the headlamp doesn’t run down the batteries.

Interested in the Emergency Head Lamp or other Madera products?

Use this code to get 20% Off: PARROTFISH.ADVENTURES

MADERA OUTDOOR


Disclaimer: As a Madera Outdoor Ambassador, I received the Emergency Head Lamp at great discount to test and review.


Interested in the Emergency Head Lamp? Use my code to get 20% off!

PARROTFISH.ADVENTURES

Five of the Best Hidden Gems Around LA

Ah, yes. Southern California. Home of Hollywood, Disney, and Long Beach. Many people long for Southern California’s warm weather, palm trees, and sunny skies! As you make your travel itinerary (or dream itinerary in this Covid environment), don’t plan to spend your entire trip at Disneyland. After living in the area, I found the best local haunts. You will NOT want to miss these secret treasures!

La Brea Tar Pits, Los Angeles

This mastodon exhibit sparked my interest in paleontology as a little girl.

Did you know that Los Angeles is floating on top of a giant pool of natural asphalt? This pool, called the Salt Lake Oil Field, was formed  from marine plankton deposited in an ocean basin during the Miocene Epoch (5-25 million years ago). Over time, immense pressure converted these organisms into oil. The oil (better known as tar) seeps to the surface.

Over the past 50,000 years, animals and plants have gotten trapped in these seeps and were preserved. The La Brea Tar Pits, located in Hancock Park, is the only actively excavated Ice Age fossil site found in an urban location in the world!

The La Brea Tar Pits’ museum land is peppered with new and old tar seeps. The old, dried out seeps are excavated, unearthing animals such as dire wolves, sabertooth cats, and mammoths. One of the museums’s most famous pits is a large, black lake that sits at the entrance of the museum. The Lake Pit is left over from asphalt mining operations in the early 1800’s. Over time, the bubbling natural asphalt was covered by rain and groundwater. One of the museum’s most iconic exhibits is the recreation of a mammoth becoming trapped in the tar in the Lake Pit.

According to La Brea’s website, “Since 1906, more than one million bones have been recovered, representing over 231 species of vertebrates. In addition, 159 species of plants and 234 species of invertebrates have been identified. It is estimated that the collections at La Brea Tar Pits contain about three million items. When completed, Project 23—our current excavation—may double this number.”

There might not be any dinosaurs in their collections, but a wall of dire wolves, mammoths, sabertooth cats, and giant sloths more than make up for it.

I highly recommend joining the museum’s walking tour of the grounds! There, you’ll learn about the history of the La Brea Tar Pits, see new pits, as well as gain insight into ongoing excavations. Just be careful not to accidentally step into any new tar seeps! The asphalt is almost impossible to get out of clothing.

As a side note, the La Brea Tar Pits is one of my FAVORITE places! It is my go-to whenever I’m in the area!

Bogart’s Coffee House, Seal Beach

Photo courtesy of Bogart’s website. I’m a fan of their house coffee, but I hear that their chai tea latte is also excellent!

No Parrotfish travel list will be complete without a coffee house! I am quite the fan of local coffee shops. I make it my mission to find the best coffee house whenever I travel!

When I lived in Southern California, Bogart’s was one of my go-to locations. When I searching for the coffee shop, I had several parameters to follow: 1. good coffee, 2. WIFI, 3. in view of the ocean, 4. independent (aka: not a chain).

I searched along the coast from Laguna Beach through Ventura. There were many wonderful coffee shops, but most were all missing one parameter or another. If the coffee shop had good coffee and WIFI, then it was on the wrong side of Highway 1. If the coffee shop was in view of the ocean, then there was no WIFI or comfortable place to hang out.

Finally, after months of searching, I found the elusive coffee shop. Bogart’s Coffee House lives in Seal Beach, CA, a small coastal town that is easily overlooked. Bogart’s has everything you could want in a coffee shop. In addition to the three all-important parameters, Bogart’s also has shaved ice, good pastries, and weekly live music.

You can sit and enjoy your coffee at the coffee house or take it across the street to savor your drink at the beach. Do you have kids? Bogart’s is across the street from the Seal Beach Pier Playground. This is a great place for kids to run around and burn off their excess energy while you enjoy the ocean.

Roundhouse Aquarium, Manhattan Beach

Courtesy of the Roundhouse Aquarium’s Facebook Page. Seriously, don’t forget to take a selfie with the shark.

The traffic in LA is legendary. In short, you’ll want to avoid the freeway and highways from 3PM to about 7PM. As you can imagine, that can make things complicated when you are dropping off or picking up from LAX.

One of my favorite escapes while waiting for the traffic to wane is Manhattan Beach. While Manhattan Beach is famous for surfing, restaurants, and expensive homes, the Roundhouse Aquarium is often overlooked.

This quaint aquarium sits at the end of the Manhattan Beach Pier. The small, round building is quaint. It’s large windows, teal trim, and red roof speak to its quirky, community-based programming and exhibits.

Though it is small, the aquarium hosts more than 100 native species, from an octopuses and jellyfish to eels and even small sharks. Don’t forget to stop by the touch pool while you’re there!

While most things in Southern California tend to be pretty expensive, the Roundhouse Aquarium entry is free, though they recommend giving a small donation to help with upkeep costs.

On your way out, be sure to take a selfie with the shark outside the front door.

Porto’s Bakery and Cafe

Porto’s Bakery & Cafe dates to 1960 when it started as a small, neighborhood bakery. Now there are five Southern California locations serving a wealth of baked goods, sandwiches and more. (Photo by Merrill Shindler)

Oh boy. I’m getting hungry just thinking about Porto’s!

Porto’s Bakery and Cafe is a Cuban-American bakery. It has grown to five locations across Southern California. Pro tip: the Porto’s location in Buena Vista is just down the street from Knott’s Berry Farm.

Porto’s is famous for their tres leches cakes, Cuban sandwiches, and potato balls. Though, if I’m being fair, you can’t go wrong with anything at Porto’s. One of the best parts is that Porto’s is not expensive! You can order dinner without breaking the bank!

However, Porto’s is a favorite local haunt. You are likely going to have to wait in a long line, but it is definitely worth it!

The Old Zoo, Griffith Park, LA

Definitely bring a good pair of shoes, a camera, and a sack lunch!

Located in the heart of Griffith Park, these ruins are the remains of the zoo abandoned in 1966. You can explore graffiti-covered cages, old walk ways, and dilapidated buildings. It’s the perfect place if you’re looking for post-apocalyptic photos!

If you’re a movie buff, you’ll probably recognize the site from some movies and TV shows, including “Anchorman (2004)”, “Mind Stealers from Outer Space 2” from “Wonder Woman (1977)” and “Police Academy 2: Their First Assignment (1985)”.

When Griffith Park absorbed the original zoo site, they added picnic tables and walking trails. Griffith Park can be rough around the edges, so I recommend bringing a buddy with you to explore the abandoned zoo!

Have fun planning your next LA trip! Did I miss your favorite LA hidden gem? Tell me in the comments below!

Reduce Your Exposure: 5 Ways to Stay Safe and Travel During a Pandemic

You’ve been home bound since March. You have counted every tile in the kitchen floor. You know how many steps it is around the block. You have planted and weeded your garden.

You are bored.

You need to go DO something.

I get it! I’m right there with you! It isn’t impossible to travel safely during the pandemic, but there are important steps to take to ensure the safety and well-being of yourself and those around you.

  • Choose your travel buddies carefully. The CDC and WHO recommend maintaining social distance around everyone who is not in your immediate household. That severely limits who you can take with you on your trip. The easiest option is to either travel with your household or to go on a solo trip. But let’s say that you really need to go on that friends’ road trip.

-Limit the number of people. The fewer people in the party, the less likely someone will contract or spread Covid-19.

-Get tested before the trip! Covide has a 2 week incubation period. You might have it an not even know it! The safest measure is for everyone in the party to be tested.

  • Set up your “pandemic kit.” If you’re anything like me, you have a lot of bags and packs. After all, each bag has a different purpose, right? That also means that I’m transferring items back and forth all the time. In a pre-Covid world I used a small zip wallet that held all of my small essentials. I adapted the practice to include Covid essentials. Here’s what I keep in my kit: mask, hand sanitizer, wallet, phone, medications, pads, allergy sensory therapy, chap stick, and business cards. No matter the bag or adventure, I always need these items. Since I started using my zip wallet, I suddenly don’t forget anything important!
  • Choose your destination carefully. I can’t stress enough how important research is before you go! You’ll want to avoid Covid-19 hot spots (I’m looking at you, Florida beaches!). How is the community handling safety measures? Are they wearing masks? Social distancing? You can get a lot of information on social media in coffee shop, restaurant, and retail reviews and pages.
  • Where are you staying? Hotels are usually a great way to go, but the rooms are packed together. Many large hotels use small, not ventilated elevators. Unless, of course, you LIKE walking up 38 flights of stairs. In my Covid travels, I stay at home rentals, such as Air BnB and VRBO. These rentals are less dense than a hotel building, allowing for better social distancing. On that note, why stay inside at all? Many campgrounds have excellent social distancing. Not to mention the top-notch ventilation!
  • Plan to eat outdoors. For many, vacations and travel are ubiquitous with a restaurant experience. However, restaurants have limited seating these days. Many are relegated to solely outdoor dining. Still others are take-out only. It’s important to plan accordingly! I usually carry a picnic bag in the trunk of my car, with utensils, a picnic blanket, and other necessities.

Summer is the season for travel! Stay safe! Have fun! Tell me all about it!