Visiting one of the National Parks during the Centennial Year was on my 2016 bucket list. Not only did I achieve this goal, I checked off two parks from my list and added a lot of bonus stops along the way. There are so many ways to see the US National Parks, depending on what you want to see and how you want to travel. From a guided tour company that handles all the details and driving to a rail vacation that take you from city to city by train to a customized self-drive vacation. No matter how you personally prefer to travel, a visit to the National Parks is always a treat!
Not only are all the parks so different, but an added bonus is the low cost. If you wish to visit more than one park in a year, an annual pass is $80 and it gets a car into the park each time that you visit. It covers everyone in a standard vehicle and up to 4 people at “per person” charge sites.
I chose the custom route for my trip. My plan consisted of one round-trip flight, a rental car to take us around from there, four different hotels to stop along the way and an itinerary of sites (with room allotted for spontaneous stops). The beauty of a customized trip is that while I prefer to travel at a fast pace, my trip could have easily been modified to be more leisurely if I wanted.
My Personalized Itinerary:
I was joined on this trip by my friend Abby. We flew nonstop to Phoenix on Southwest, and from there we picked up our rental car and drove about 2 hours to our first hotel in Sedona. After a quick bite to eat, we headed to bed early to get a good night’s rest.
Thanks to the two hour time difference, I woke up to the sunrise to start my day. Because the hotel was just south of the main Sedona tourist area, it was a very scenic drive into town. We drove around to different lookouts in the area where we stopped for some light hiking. We had lunch at Oak Creek Brewery, a small restaurant and taproom where I enjoyed a flight of their beer and the best spinach salad I have ever had!
It's hard to decide what you should and shouldn't pack when heading to a new destination. Unfortunately, you usually learn the hard way when you either end up with way too much stuff, or standing in line in the resort gift shop to pay way too much for something that is suddenly very necessary.
Libby and her friend spent a week in Costa Rica, and both of them had to roll the dice when packing for their trip. There were definitely some unnecessary items that made the trip, but Libby has a few recommendations of things that ended up being really helpful along the way...
Keen makes a pair of shoes called Uneeks. They are made for both men and women, and come in a ton of different colors. What makes them so "unique" is that they are made of just a sturdy sole and two lengths of paracord that are knotted and wrapped to cover your foot. They are certainly odd looking... the jury is out on whether they are cute in a weird way or just plain strange, but beauty is in the eye of the beholder. For as comfortable and functional as these are, I don't mind looking a little goofy.
My friend and I both bought a pair for our trip, and I can't imagine what we would've done without them! They worked as hiking shoes when we were trekking through the jungle (after we thoroughly bug-sprayed the shoes and our feet), and as water shoes when we were whitewater rafting and constantly switching between being in the raft and swimming in the water. There is razor-siping on the soles - meaning little lines cut into them, that allow better traction, so we had no issues with slippery rocks or other wet surfaces.
These shoes are so comfortable, and because they are made of paracord they stretch around your foot without a long break-in period. This one pair of shoes did the work of three others, so it also kept us from overpacking shoes that we'd only wear once the whole time.
Waterproof Phone Pouch
I have a lifeproof case for my iPhone that makes it waterproof and drop-proof, but my worry was more the fact that I didn't have a way to tether my phone to myself. I wanted to be able to take photos while doing all of my fun excursions, but not at the expense of my pricey and very necessary cell phone. I found these waterproof pouches online for a cheap price, and they had great ratings for how easy they are to use and how waterproof they are.
I brought one along with me when we went whitewater rafting and during our jet ski tour. I was able to put the strap around my neck and tuck the pouch in between my chest and my life vest, and when I wanted to use my phone to take pictures it was easily accessible. I had brought a Go Pro-type camera with me for another excursion, but it's hard to snap the perfect picture when you aren't as familiar with the camera. I was able to whip out my phone and take amazing pictures without being afraid of it getting lost or wet.
Photos taken through the waterproof bag:
This was one of the most debatable things on our packing list before we actually left. One excursion we did, a four-part adventure combo, recommended that we wear long pants for the day. Not sure if you've heard, but Costa Rica is HOT! The idea of running around all day in long pants sounded miserable to us. However, since we knew we would be battling bugs, and because of the nature of our activities (a zipline harness biting into your bare thigh doesn't sound like a fun thing), we decided to take their advice.
We each ended up finding a pair of tan, linen pants. The fabric is really light and breathable, and the wide-leg cut of our pants allowed air to flow easily.
We were immediately glad that we went with the long pants. Most people on our tour had shorts on, and right off the bat they were swatting at their legs and whining about bugs (insects in the middle of the Costa Rican jungle? Who knew?). Plus, everyone was feeling the burn after wearing the zipline harness and going horseback riding in shorts. We probably looked odd at first, but we stayed cool and were prepared for anything the day could throw at us.
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