Amanda Dorough | She's Paying It Off

The Story of My Journey to Debt Freedom, One Tiny Step at a Time


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London on a Budget : What to see and do

Hello all!  Pardon my slight absence but I had a bit of an issue with my laptop.  We’ll just say it took a swim in the bathtub…. but now I’m back and ready to give you all the down-low on the fantastic free and cheap things I discovered to do while I was in London.

Now, let me start off by saying I am by no means a London expert, I’m just a super budget conscious girl who found some awesome budget-friendly activities and wanted to pass on this knowledge in case I can help any of you other budget conscious travelers out there.

Now let’s get on with it.  First up…

MUSEUMS

London has so many incredible museums and with the exception of a few small museums, they’re FREE.  Probably one of my favorite words. I by no means visited every museum in London, but here are the ones I did in order from my favorite to least.

  1.  The British Museum:  Where do I even start. This is probably the top museum in London and it’s massive with the crowds to match.  I didn’t even come close to seeing everything.  It serves as home to some pretty incredible artifacts from all over the world and throughout history such as the Rosetta Stone, Egyptian relics, and even pieces of the Parthenon from Athens.  Displays in the museum literally span history from Ancient Mesopotamia to Alaskan Native culture and beyond.  I was in constant awe of the artifacts I was witnessing.
  2. The Victoria and Albert Museum:  This museum was a complete surprise to me.  I honestly just ducked in to use their wifi (all the museums had free wifi) and ended up loving it.  Similar to the British Museum it houses a lot of historical artifacts but it focuses more on the humanities, art, and design.  My favorite spaces were the Cast Courts which houses copies (or casts) of dozens of historical monuments and sculptures (like Michelangelo’s David).  The most impressive to me was a casting of Trajan’s Column from Rome which is actually displayed in two pieces because it’s to tall to fit in the building.  Impressive.
  3. The National Gallery:  This massive art museum houses many iconic works from famous artists throughout history.  If you want to get up close and personal with works by Van Gough, Monet, Renoir, Picasso, Rembrandt, Di Vinci… This is where you need to go.  Paintings are sorted by historical period and or country so it can be quite difficult to find the specific paintings you want to see unless you know what you’re looking for, however on the museum’s web page they list their most famous paintings and exactly which rooms you can find them in which is helpful.  Also again, the museum has free wifi so accessing the website shouldn’t be an issue even if you don’t have data.
  4.   The National History Museum:  Honestly it’s very similar to every other natural history museum I’ve been to, that’s the only reason it doesn’t rank higher on the list.  The museum is home to a pretty impressive collection of rocks and gems as well as taxidermy animals.  The centerpiece though is probably the museums Hintze Hall which has a massive blue whale skeleton hanging from the ceiling.  The room itself also has some pretty cool architectural details built into the columns and staircases.
  5. The Tate Modern:  In general I like modern art, I mean arguably the art I create would be classified as modern art.  I did not, however, like about 90% of the Tate Modern.  I just didn’t get it.  The meanings of the strange installations were over my head.  The one redeeming quality of the museum for me was its location.  It sits on the south bank of the Thames in an old Power Station.  On the top floor of the building is actually a viewing deck where you get some pretty awesome views of the river, the Millennium Bridge, St. Pauls Cathedral, and the rest of London.  I highly recommend a visit for that alone

*Also, pro tip.  There are public bathrooms all over London that you have to pay to use (and rightfully so), but all the museums have fantastic bathrooms that you can use for free.  So, if you ever find yourself needing a “Lu” and you’re close to a museum just duck in and save some pence.

West End Shows

Ok, I’ll start this off by saying the obvious, this isn’t a free activity BUT, if you’re a musical lover like me there are some tips to help you save big!  While I was in London I decided to go see the musical “Waitress.” Having done a bit of research beforehand I learned that Waitress is among a handful of West End shows that offer “Day Of Tickets.” Theaters obviously want to sell as many tickets to a show as possible since an empty seat equals no profit. This essentially means that if you have the energy to wait in line for the theater to open on the day of the show you have the possibility to score an awesome seat for cheap.  Now not every show does this and times, lines lengths, and rules vary depending on the show as well (I suggest doing some research online before you head out), but here was my experience with Waitress…

After researching I learned that the ticket office at the Adelphi Theater (where Waitress is preformed) opens at 10:00 in the morning so I aimed to get there by 8:30 to make sure I got a good spot in line.  Well, I got there at 8:30 and no one was there!  I was a little confused and wondered if I got my info wrong, so I wandered down the street to get some free wifi and double-check (everything checked out, just no one else was waiting yet).  So, since I had an hour and a half to kill I wandered around and stumbled upon the que for The Lion King (musical) and the line was INSANE (I also heard the line for Wicked can get that way).  I was pretty happy with my choice of musical at this point and decided to wander back to the theater.  By the time I got back, there was a couple standing in front of the theater (in line) so now I didn’t feel so awkward and decided to join them.  By the time the theater opened there were 8 of us total, not so bad.  I ended up scoring a 5th row center ticket for $30 USD, which is a little bit pricier than day-of tickets in NYC but still a fantastic deal considering the people next to me spent close to $100!

Other tips:  Both “Hamilton” and “Harry Potter” and the Cursed Child” sell their leftover (discount) tickets using an online Lottery.  I entered for both but was unlucky on all counts.  Maybe you’ll have better luck than I did 😉

Explore Parks

London is home to several incredible parks which offer a great way to escape from the hustle and bustle of the city (even though you’re still technically in the middle of it all).  You can stroll among the many paths or rent a Satander Bike for a couple pounds.  Overall parks are just a great place to people watch and see some iconic monuments, like the Peter Pan statue in Kensington Gardens.  It took me awhile to find it but it was totally worth it!

  • Note:  I also highly recommend St. Dunsten of the East church ruins.  While it’s not technically a park the foliage covered ruins are an incredible sight to behold.

Affordable Alternatives

Southwark Cathedral:  Westminster Abbey and St. Pauls Cathedral are both incredible sites to behold but expensive to get into.  If you want to get your cathedral fix but don’t want to spend an arm and a leg consider Southwark Cathedral.  It’s free to get into and £2 for a photo pass

The Sky Garden:  Skip the Shard and it’s high price tag and take in the view from the Sky Garden instead.  Located at the top of the “Walkie Talkie” building the Sky Garden offers panoramic views of London as well as a cafe and lush indoor gardens all for FREE.  That’s right, FREE.  Note:  You do need a ticket to be allowed on the elevator but these can be booked on the Sky Garden Website ahead of time.  Apparently, some time slots do “sell” out during busy tourist months, but in October when I visited I didn’t feel like it was overly crowded.

So there you have it.  A very brief outlined version of some awesome free/cheap things to do in London.  Of course there are some honorable mentions that totally belong on this list but it would go on forever if I included them.  So I’ll just quickly mention… 1. Camden market is quirky and fantastic, a wonderful place to hang out and probably my favorite spot in London; 2. Notting Hill is full of charm, adorable pastel colored houses and Portobello Rd. Market; 3. The canals of Little Venice are fun to explore; 4.  Covent Garden and the neighborhoods of Soho are fun to explore and full of cool little quirks like Neals Yard; 5.  You can still learn a lot about the Tower of London without going inside.  There are tons of plaques around the outer wall giving you a glimpse of its history; 6.  Shoreditch has amazing street art including a couple Bansky’s; and finally 7.  Borough Market has a lot of fantastic food for good prices!


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London on a Budget: 8 days, $1063, How I did it aka my Budget Breakdown

Hello Everyone! So happy to be back!

As you may have seen in early October I took a trip to London and it was absolutely fabulous!  My goal from the beginning was to be as frugal as possible while still maximizing the fun and adventure I experienced and honestly, I think I did a pretty awesome job.  England is notoriously expensive.  Prices are very similar to the US in many regards but the British Pound is stronger than the US dollar (even though the rate was at a significant low while I was there, 1.22 USD to 1 BP) so when all is said and done goods in general are slightly more expensive for Americans.

I saw this as a challenge I was more than ready to accept.

From the moment I stepped on the plane in Austin until I walked back into my apartment door 8 days later I had my little Moleskine notebook out taking notes on things I saw, did, and the money that I spent.

So when all was said and done how much did this 8 day London adventure cost me?  Exactly $1062.58 (give or take for fluctuations in the exchange rate).  That’s everything.  Flight, lodging, food, etc., everything.  I knew my low number was pretty impressive, but it wasn’t until I returned home and spoke to a friend who had been to London a couple months earlier that I felt how truly impressive it was.  He had spent more on a London hotel for a week than I did on my entire trip.  Holy Smokes!  I told you England is expensive!

So I thought I’d give you all a little breakdown of how much I spent on each category and how I accomplished it so that maybe I could inspire some more of you amazing budget savvy travelers out there.

I’ll start with the subject that started it all….

Flight
Cost: $470.01

I’m definitely one of those weirdos that likes to search for cheap flights and dream of travel in my spare time.  Usually these searches don’t come to fruition but this time I decided to go for it.  One day I was perusing Kayak.com (one of my favorite travel search engines) and came across a non-stop flight from Austin to London for <$500.  I immediately started picturing London in the fall and ooo it seemed dreamy.  Every part of me wanted to go, but I’m on a debt free journey and travel is frowned upon.  So I sat on the idea for a few days but couldn’t get it out of my head.  Finally I decided that if I could make the rest of the trip as cheap as possible I would take the plunge, be spontaneous, and go for it!  So I headed back to Kayak and found the same flight on British Airways for the same price.  Score! I then clicked over to the British Airways site, because personally I prefer booking through an actual airline vs. a third party vendor when I can, and found the flight there for even a little bit cheaper!

In todays air travel society airlines are splitting up classes more and more.  Domestic airlines started using a class called “basic economy” a few years ago and slowly international airlines have started to catch on.  In general these are no frills fares where you give up a lot of “perks” in exchange for paying less money.  I’m proud to say that I flew to London in British Airways Basic Economy and my frugal self didn’t give in to one single upgrade.  Quite a feat considering during the booking process they try really hard to make you give in.

So what did Basic Economy on British Airways look like?

  •  Carry On luggage only… For more expensive fares you get a free checked bag but for basic economy you have to pay if you want to check a bag.
  • No pre-selecting your seat…  If you’re allergic to middle seats on airplanes this probably isn’t the best fare for you because with a Basic Economy fare you’re nearly guaranteeing yourself a middle seat.  The first chance you get to pick a seat is at online check in 24 hours before your flight.  That is what I did and I still got a middle seat.  Luckily the other middle seat next to me (I was in the middle section of a 747) was empty on the way to London so really it meant more space!
  • Boarding the plane last…  Really this just means you’ll have to fight a little harder for space in the overhead bins.
  • Food, entertainment, blankets on seats etc. are all the same as the other economy members of the flight.  No sacrifices there.

If I had chosen to upgrade to choose my seat I would have spent an extra $70 each way (at least), and by sticking to a carry on bag only I had less to carry around with me in London and less space to buy junk I didn’t need while I was there.  Even being in the middle seat wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.  If you’re a budget traveler I definitely recommend Basic Economy.

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Transportation
Cost: $138.18

I’ll add into this that London is a really big walking city. Everyone walks here so invest in comfortable shoes that aren’t going to kill your feet. Even women walking down the street in a business suit wear tennis shoes because they know footwear matters. I really screwed up in this matter. I thought I had good shoes but didn’t and I paid for it physically (Blisters, shin splints, etc.) and literally because I ended up taking public transport a little more often than I’d planned due to the pain.

Here are some other tips I have…

  • Getting to the city from Heathrow Airport:  The “Heathrow Express” train is highly advertised but also super expensive.  We’re talking about $42 (£37) round trip for the 30 minute ride to Paddington Station.  I instead elected to take the Tube aka London Underground to the city.  It takes a little bit more time but it is soooo much cheaper.  I spent £3.10 to get to Kings Cross Station (off peak hours) and £5.10 to get back to the airport (peak hours) which if you’re keeping track is about 1/4 of the cost of the Heathrow Express.  The tube station is also right in the terminal at the airport and there are tons of signs to help you find it.
  • If you’re going to use the Tube (and you should) then invest in an “Oyster card.”  The Oyster card is a multi use card that you can preload money to so each time you go to use the tube you just tap the card on the entrance gate instead of paying for single tickets each time.  Fares using the Oyster card are also discounted from single ticket costs so even more worth it.  You can easily get your Oyster card from a tube ticket machine (I got mine at the airport).  You do put down a £5 deposit when you get the card but this, along with any other money you still have on the card, is refundable when you leave.  The only exception is with the “Visitor Oyster card” that they market to tourists and you can order before you arrive in country.  The deposit on that is not refundable (so what I’m saying is you should probably just get the regular Oyster card).
  • London is split into different zones and tube fares are different depending on what zones you travel between.  Most places I went to were within Zone 1 aka central London so it was just a flat fee (£2.40 per ride I believe) but there is a full breakdown of costs available online.
  • This area also includes the train I took to Watford Junction (£18.10) where I caught a shuttle bus (£3) for the Harry Potter Studio Tour as well as the train I took out to Oxford (£27.40) for a day trip.
  • Finally this area also includes the Lyft ride I took from the airport to my apartment when I got back to Austin ($34 after coupon and including tip).  Luckily I got a ride to the airport from a friend when I left, but they were in class when I got back so I had to find alternative options.

Lodging
Cost: $116.00

You read that right, $116.  Pretty stinking cheap right?  Well it’s because I stayed in a hostel.  I know that the concept of hostels is pretty scary and foreign to a lot of people but I don’t mind them, especially if it lets me travel for cheap.  Thankfully London is very rich with a lot of amazing hostel options.  Really there is something for everyone.  You can get anything from a private room for £60/night in a hostel to a 20 bed dorm room for £13.  I researched for a good week before I finally made my decision which I made based on 4 factors: price, location, reputation, and communal kitchen.  The place I really wanted to stay was about £30/night for a bed in a 6 bed female dorm.  Man it looked nice but it was so much more than I wanted to pay.  After all was said and done I finally chose to stay at a hostel called Clink 78.  Set in an old court house it really is a super cool building.  I’m going to be posting a video review of my time there soon but here are some  of the specific reasons I picked it…

  • Location:  The hostel is about a 10 minute walk from Kings Cross station.  It’s not right in the middle of all the tourist activities but Kings Cross is a good launching point for almost anything London has to offer.
  • Communal Kitchen:  I wanted the option to be able to cook my own food to save money.  Not all hostels have kitchen so this was huge to me.
  • All female housing:  I’ll share a dorm with guys if I have to, but I really do feel more comfortable when I can be in a room with only women.  This hostel not only had girls only dorms, but it had a girls only wing which I really liked.
  • The price was right:  They had a promotional sale going on which brought the room down to about £14/night.  For 6 nights it was about £85 (or $105 according to my bank). That’s cheaper than one night in most hotels!  I also decided to spend $11 extra to guarantee myself a bottom bunk.  When I was 10 I loved top bunks, now I don’t.  Money well spent.

Overall my experience in the dorm this time was pretty good.  The bunk beds all had privacy walls between them which was nice.  There was some snoring but it was bearable.  It was a bit cluttered with suitcases but passable.  There was a lock box for me to put my important/expensive items into so I didn’t have to worry about them.  Best of all though I made friends.  When you’re traveling alone and spend all day in your own head sometimes it’s nice to have people to talk to.  We were all from such different walks of life (not to mention different countries) but we had some awesome conversations.

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Food
Cost: $136.01

Eating can definitely get expensive if you’re not careful.  There were some staple British dishes I wanted to try like fish and chips and meat pie and mash that I let myself splurge on but other than that I was very careful.  Restaurants can get real expensive real fast.  I would estimate that prices for similar dishes in most establishments are 20%-30% more than what you would pay for a similar dish in the US.  Thats just how it is.  Some dishes are worth it, some aren’t.  Just make good choices.

Here are some other things I did do save on food:

  • I brought some food with me from the US.  I had a gallon ziplock that I filled with items I had at home.  Oatmeal packets, easy mac, peanut butter packets, little restaurant condiment style honey packets, granola bars, hot chocolate…  Usually most mornings I would throw a granola bar in my purse and eat that for breakfast as I walked about.  I also bought some bread from the grocery story and used the PB and honey to make sandwiches to take with me.
  • Convenience stores are everywhere.  They sell cheap premade sandwiches and easy microwavable meals for a few pounds.  Most nights I would stop by one of these stores in Kings Cross on my way back to the hostel and would pick up a drink, snack, and some sort of microwave meal like Shepherds pie then take it back to the hostel and cook it in the kitchen.  I saved a ton of money this way.
  • I found street markets have pretty cheap food.  My first day I got some stir fry and fresh juice at Borough Market and later in the week I got an awesome almond tarte at Portobello Rd.

Fun
Cost: $113.02

This is one of those areas where I have so much to tell you that I’m definitely going to have to do another post on it.  Keeping with the theme of London being expensive this area is no exception but if you’re smart about it you can having an amazing time without spending a lot.  Before I left Austin I heavily researched everything I could see and do, priced them and prioritized them.  I may have only spent just over $100 on fun but I was throughly entertained the entire time, I assure you.

Here’s a bit of a breakdown (without going into to much detail) on where I spent my money and what I saved on:

  • The biggest chunk of this was the Harry Potter Studio Tour which was £45 ($55 according to my bank).  This was the number one thing I wanted to and I booked my ticket basically the day after I got my flight.  I decided it was going to be my one big splurge and it was soooo worth it.
  • Going to see a West End Show…  I absolutely love musicals and knew I had to try to see one if the price was right.  I tried really hard to win the £10 ticket lottery to Hamilton but no such luck, so instead I got up early and waited in line for a “day of” ticket for “Waitress.”  I got a 5th row center ticket for £25 ($30 according to my bank) and it was so worth it.
  • Admission to various colleges in Oxford…  On my second to last day it was a bit rainy in London so I decided to get out of town and Oxford was a pretty affordable day trip by train.  I absolutely love historical architecture so I picked a few different colleges in Oxford that I wanted to go into and check out what they had to offer (like the Cloisters at New College and the Divinity School at the Bodleian Libraries).  Tickets to get in varied between £3 and £8.50, so not really breaking the bank but not free either.
  • In London I elected to not go into any of the big monuments like Westminster Abbey and the Tower of London because the entrance fees were so steep.  Maybe one day, when I’m debt free, I’ll go back and check them out, but for now I was pretty content looking at these sites from the outside.  Instead I took advantage of the dozens of free activities London offers like the changing of the guards at Buckingham palace or the museums.  Dang they were cool.

And finally…

Miscellaneous
Cost: $89.36

Because sometimes little things that don’t fit in any other category come up. In this category I included the bandaids I had to buy after my shoes gave me horrible blisters and the slippers I bought because of the same foot issues. I also included any other clothing items I bought for myself (like socks because it was cold) as well as some small souvenirs I got for my family.

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So there you have it. My breakdown of how I spent a week in London for just over $1000. I know that my way of travel isn’t for everyone but man, seeing how affordable I could make it while still experiencing maximum enjoyment was a lot of fun.

Stay tuned in the next week or two for more on free/cheap activities I recommend in London and Oxford as well as a full review of my hostel!

*** Disclaimer:  I am on a debt free journey and paying of debt is my #1 priority right now.  I work a lot (between 56 and 115 hours a week on average) in a career that can be both physically and mentally taxing.  I hadn’t taken a real “break” since I moved to Texas almost two years ago.  I was totally worn, physically and mentally.  While I’m not an advocate for big extravagant vacations while paying down debt I do advocate doing what you need to do to make sure you’re healthy mentally and physically.  In my case I needed to get away, rest, recharge, and reset so that I could start tackling my next chunk of debt and not shrivel into a depressed, anxious, prune. So just in case anyone out there feels like commenting on the fact that I shouldn’t be traveling right now I just wanted to get it out there that this is my why, it’s something I needed to do for me and as should be obvious I did it all while spending as little as I possibly could so not to get me completely off track. Thanks!


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Budget Travel: What I’m packing for 8 days in London *updated*

*Now that I”m back from my trip scroll to the bottom to see the things I’m really glad I brought and what I wish I would have done differently

You guys, excited doesn’t even begin to cover how I feel right now.  I haven’t traveled, like really traveled since I got home from Bolivia in 2012.  Now for any of you that follow me in Instagram you know that this whole trip to London came to be because I found a hard to resist deal on a flight.

Austin to London Heathrow direct on British Airways for $474.01?  Ya that’s hard to pass up.

What I haven’t mentioned though is the awesome cheap fare I got is what’s known as “Basic Economy.”  The means I don’t get to the advantage of typical perks you get on international flights like picking or seat or checking a bag without paying an extra fee, and what kind of budget trip would this be if I went round paying all the fee’s?(Food however, is still included.  Hooray!).

So I’m going to be doing this whole adventure with only a carry-on and personal item.  Is it ideal?  No.  Trying to stuff cold weather clothes for 8 days into a carry on bag isn’t ideal but my friends I have done it!

So why bags am I taking?  Behold! IMG_0037

Personal item= Black cross body bag by Baggallini that I got on clearance at TJ Maxx. This is a new bag I got for the trip but I plan on using it for any travel I have to come so I’m looking at it as an investment. My criteria was that the bag be big enough to fit my iPad in through the opening, be in a neutral color, and be suitable to use as an everyday purse while traveling.  A suprisingly difficult combo to find but I did it!

Carry On= Allpa 35 Travel Pack by Cotopaxi.  I bought this pack when it was first released through Kickstarter two years ago. Since then the brand has grown and the price increased.  I honestly don’t know if I could afford the pack for what it costs now ($200) but I bought it in my pre- debt free journey days and I’m so happy I did!  I’ve only used is for one weekend trip so far so this will be the longest (and farthest) trip I’ve used it on, but it’s exactly the kind of trip I bought it for so I’m pretty excited!  It has a lot of room inside and several compartments to keep things organized.  *side note: I know there are several brands out there like eBags and Eagle Creek that have similar travel packs for cheaper prices so if you’re in the market for a new pack but can’t shell out $200 I recommend you do a search!)

So now that I’ve covered the bags I’m taking how about I show you what I’m packing in them?  Let’s start with my personal item…

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Semi Clockwise from L-R:

Compression Socks:  Last time I spent all day on a plane I ended up having painful, swollen feet for a week.  No thank you. I have to much to see and do in London and to many places to walk, so I bought some compression socks to hopefully keep my circulation going!
Ipad
Wallet:  I’m going to be leaving my trusty Bella Taylor cash system wallet at home in favor of this more streamlined wallet.
Small Notebook:  My plan is to take notes of the places I go, cool things I see, as well as money I spend everyday so I have an accurate tally when I get home.
Kleenex
Travel Pillow:  I love a good memory foam travel pillow as much as the next person but mine was just to big to take on this trip so I picked up this inflatable neck pillow from TJ Maxx.  It’s got a fuzzy sleeve on it it so I’m hoping it makes it a little more comfortable…
Plane Snacks:  Like I said they feed us on the flight but I get hungry when I’m fly so might as well have some emergency snacks lol
Everything Bag:  This has all the little things that can get lost in a purse in it.  I’ll give you. closer peek at what’s inside in a minute.
Electronics Bag
Passport Case: This is actually a pencil case by Yoobie that I got on back to school clearance and Walmart but it’s awesome!  It holds everything I need.
Collapsable Water Bottle

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Passport Case:
Passport
Pens, Pencil, Dual tipped highlighter
Custom Envelope for Reciepts
Notecards with directions to hostel and other important information I thought it wold be good to have.  And yes, they’re laminated, you know just in case they get wet lol.

Electronics Bag:
Dual Port Fast Charger (USB & USB C)
Portable Battery Pack -I’ve tested it and can get at least 3 full charges on my phone before I have to charge the pack which should be more than enough for a day walking around London and taking pictures.
Phone & iPad cords
Headphones with USB C adapter
Fitbit Charger

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Everything Bag:
Wet Ones– I definitely don’t want to get sick this trip so I’m going to pull a germaphobe move and wipe down my tray table etc on the plane.
Ear Plugs 
Tums
Emergency Tampon
Chapstick
Hand Santitizer
Hair Clip
Glass cleaning cloth
Medicines
USB Thumb drive
Floss
*I’m probably also going to throw an extra hair tie or two in there because a girl can always use more hair ties.

And then in my carry on…

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Semi Clockwise from L-R:

Packing cube with my clothes inside (scroll down to see what’s inside)
Travel Towel– The Hostel I’m staying in rents towels for £3.  I still have my travel towel from the World Race 8 years ago.  One less fee to pay!
Makeup removing wipes
Hair brush
Hat
Gloves
Toiletry Case (scroll down to see what’s inside)
Travel Umbrella
Packable Backpack
Camera–  I debated whether I wanted to bring this or not.  My go to awesome camera is a DSLR but it’s huge.  Then if I brought it I’d want to bring lenses too and it would all get out of hand.  My phone takes awesome pictures so it’s going to be my go-to, but this little guy will be taken out of retirement to be my backup.
Food–  So I purposefully chose a hostel with a common kitchen area.  Food could easily be my biggest expense (next to the flight) on this trip so I decided I would attempt to do at least one meal a day at the hostel.  I plan to hit up a store once I get to London but these I can all bring from home without spending extra.  It includes Easy Mac, Oatmeal, Hot Chocolate, granola bars, Honey packets, Emergen-C, & PB packets I got at ALDI.
Toms–  I waterproofed both pairs of shoes I’m taking otherwise these would be terrible and wet in the rain.  They’re comfy and light to pack so I hope these do me well!
Light Jacket
Rain Coat
Flip Flops for the hostel shower
Hair Straightener (it’s dual voltage)
Plug adapter
Socks/underwear

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Inside my packing cube and Toiletry Bag:
2 T-shirts
1 Nice Shirt
5 long sleeve shirts/sweaters
Black Jeggings
Black Cotton leggings
Athletic Shorts – For sleeping in because I hear the hostel can get hot.  If it’s cold I’ll wear the leggings instead.
Q-tips
Contacts– Enough for every day I’m gone.  I’m so paranoid something will happen to my glasses but I don’t want to take two pairs with me so this is my answer.
Dry Shampoo
Body Wash
Hair Claw
Deoderant– I got this tiny Native sample from PinchMe and it’s awesome!
Hair Ties
Tiger Balm– For my neck in case my headaches start acting up
Toothbrush/Toothpaste/Floss
Shampoo and Conditioner (I’m taking the sample pack too because the two containers aren’t full)
*I may switch a couple items of clothes out still.  I’m keeping an eye on the weather then I’ll make my final choice.

And finally, what I’ll be wearing on the plane.  It’s supposed to be 95 degrees in Austin when I leave so I’ll be pretty miserable with all this stuff, but’s its going to be in the 50’s in London so it will be OK.  They’re all my bulkiest things so I’m doing what I’ve gotta do…

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I’m wearing:
Jeans (with belt)
T-shirt
Scarf
Coat– I’m debating between taking my Northface Denali ( was a gift from a friend years ago) or my REI down Jacket (got on clearance when I lived in AK).  It’s another thing where I’ll probably make the final decision before I leave.
Shoes–  I got these Blowish shoes at Ross for $14.99.  I’d been on the hunt for a pair of stylish water proof shoes for a couple months.  I found several I liked but all where way out of my price range.  That’s when it dawned on me that I could waterproof basically any shoe on it’s own.  Most of the shoes I own are either so breathable they’re not good to waterproof OR not comfortable enough to spend all day walking it, hence the new pair.  I’ve been wearing these around to break them in for the last couple weeks and so far they’re awesome.

Not pictured that I’m bringing with me:  cell phone, small credit card size phone tripod, Fitbit, eye mask (for sleeping on the plane…and maybe the hostel), lock for my hostel locker, copy of important documents (ie. passport), copies of all my confirmation letters (for flight, hostel, etc.)

So there you have it.  Everything I’m bringing with my on my super budget adventure to London next week!  Stay tuned to hear more about my frugal adventures and for tips from across the pond!

 

***POST TRIP UPDATE***

Ok everyone so now that I”m back from London I have a few updates to the list.  Some things thatI brought were very very right and others, well, I regret terribly, so I thought I would share it all with you.

(And note, if I don’t mention something from above just assume I’m glad I brought it but it wasn’t especially exceptions)

Ok we’ll start with the good

Passport “Pencil Case” by Yoobie: Oh my gosh this thing was amazing.  It kept me super organized.  I always knew where to go for a pen, kept my receipts here, my passport, and any paperwork or brochures I got during my days exploring.
Black Waterproof Jacket:  It wasn’t pictured above because I ended up picking it up at Marshall’s just a few days before I left but it was fantastic.  It had a light faux fur lining and a waterproof shell and I ended up wearing it every day.  It also allowed me to leave my specific rain jacket at home (and it replaced my black fleece) so that I had one jacket in place of two.
Hat, gloves, and scarf:  I didn’t wear them all the time but there were some points where it was really chilly and I was happy to have them all.
Portable battery pack:  This was so great to have.  This kept me mobile without having to look for a place to charge my phone.  I’d typical have to recharge my phone at least once mid day since I was using it so much for pictures so it was definitely a life saver.

Now The Bad

Footwear. Oh my gosh I have so many regrets.  Before leaving everything I read said that people in London were fashionable and you’d stick out like a sore thumb if you were to colorful etc. and if you were unstylish footwear.  The truth is Londoners walk a lot and everyone is wearing good shoes.  Even women in dresses wear tennis shoes as they go from points A to B because they recognize the value of their feet.  Now to be honest I thought my shoes were good.  I broke them in before I left and they gave me no problems but to be fair I wasn’t walking 30,000 steps a day in them either.  After 1 day of walking around in my Blowfish shoes I had shin splints and a massive blister on the ball of of the left foot.  I then spent the rest of the week in misery with every step and a profound limp.   Now when it comes to the Toms my feet had gotten so swollen from the trauma inflicted that I couldn’t fit the toms on while wearing socks and it was to cold to go without socks.  If I could do it again I would bring the two most comfortable pairs of shoes I own regardless of how stylish.
Second coat:  This wasn’t specifically bad, I just didn’t need it.  I ended up bringing my lightweight REI down jacket which was easy to pack but I was always to fearful of rain to wear it.  If I did it again I might bring a lightweight fleece instead.
T-shirts:  Also not specifically bad, I just didn’t need them.  It was to cool outside to wear short sleeves, even under my jacket, and I rarely took off my jacket when I was out and about to.
Packable backpack:  Not bad just didn’t need it.  My Baggelini crossbody was more than good enough to use everyday.  I did wear the backpack the one day I planned to ride a bike and it actually hurt my back/shoulders more than the crossbody.
Packable water bottle:  Ugh, the thing leaked horribly. I ended up throwing it out day two and just reusing a water bottle I got from the store instead and it was sooooo much better.


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Ways I Saved In July

This type of  post is new for me and a bit of a departure from my usual life recap posts.  See, July posed a bit of a challenge for me.  Because it was the end of the fiscal year I found out I would have to wait 6 weeks for my next pay check instead of the usual 4.  On top of that I also had to pay my tuition for summer semester, so when all was said and done I was left with a pretty empty bank account to get me to the next paycheck and I had to get a bit creative.

I can’t lie, having a severely restricted budget for the month was super difficult.  For example, there was one Saturday when the weather was gorgeous and I had nothing to do so I thought I’d take a road trip down to Homer.  Unfortunately road trips require gas and gas costs money, so it didn’t happen.  However, despite the frustrations that came along the way, I actually enjoyed coming up with ideas and figuring out how to make my few dollars stretch further.  In the end I compiled a list of things I did, ideas that worked, and blessings I got, and I thought I’d share it here .

So without further ado, here’s how I saved in July 2016:

  •  Cooking with what I already had:  My cupboards have never been bare.  I always have a few packages of pasta, pancake mix, ramen, etc., I just usually skim by these items until I crave them, instead favoring what I want right now (pizza anyone?).  So, in July I made the decision to only cook with what I already had with the exception of buying milk and eggs since most recipes call for one or the other. In the end I never went hungry, I found new recipes, and I appreciated what I had that much more.
  • Planning a Potluck:  Speaking of food, as an RA (Resident Assistant) I’m expected to plan and execute one event in the Residence Hall every month.  Since fireworks are difficult in Alaska (thank you 22 hrs of daylight), one of my fellow RA’s and I planned a Fourth of July Potluck and Movie night for our event.  I brought cupcakes (which I already had the mix for on hand, see #1 above) but got to enjoy other dishes like beer battered halibut and home made mac n’ cheese.  Not a bad dinner at all.  Then on top of the food we also had free entertainment by watching Independence Day on our big screen.
  • Went on ResHall Grocery Runs instead of driving myself:  In the Residence Hall I live in (picture college dorms but better), since we have kitchens but don’t have a dining hall we offer grocery runs every week to the local store.  Anyone can go on them so long as there’s space left in our Sprinter van.  More often than not we go to Fred Meyers, which is my store of choice, so instead of hopping in my car and driving myself (therefore using gas), I joined in on the grocery run.  I was able to pick up the few items I actually needed and the transportation cost me nothing.
  • Biked into town–  I needed something from the grocery store and it was a non grocery run day so I borrowed a bike and rode to town instead.  It wasn’t easy considering it’s been years since I’ve been on a bike, but it was free!13880374_10102722653168578_8337803630607402409_n
  • Cancelled my CBS All Access subscription–  A few months back I subscribed to CBS All Access so I could watch Survivor and The Amazing Race.  Both shows are currently out of season and I found I wasn’t using the app at all, so I cancelled it therefore saving me money.  I’ll pick it up again sometime in the future, but there’s no need to pay for something you don’t use.
  • Earned Amazon giftcards for things I needed:  I’ve been a product tester for awhile and one of the sites I go through, Crowdtap, also gives you the ability to earn Amazon.com giftcards for answering various questions or surveys on the site.  Another site, Swagbucks, is similar in that you can earn giftcards for doing various different activities.  When I watch TV etc. I usually like to multitask so I decided to put my multitasking to good use and try to earn some giftcards through these sites for a couple things I needed.  In the end I had $20 to work with, and while I won’t do this consistently it’s a good option, especially for those who like to shop on Amazon a lot.
  • Went on vacation for free:  Ok, this one is a little more of a blessing than something I did for myself.  Back in May my Dad called me and asked if I would like to come down to Washington to visit this summer and offered to use their air miles to get me a ticket.  Of course I said yes!  My parents ended up renting a house on a Lake in Eastern Washington for a week and it was absolutely perfect. See my post here to read more about it. My parents also covered everything which helped me out a lot in the end.   Some other ways I was able to save on this trip were:

-Used my Club 49 membership to get free checked luggage on my flight

-Brought my own snacks for the flight and an empty water-bottle to fill up in the terminal to save money.  I did end up buying a soda from McDonalds, but the McDonalds in the Anchorage airport is on of the few that still honors $1 drinks instead of jacking up the price like other airports.  They also don’t have tax so I was able to pull a dollar bill out of my wallet and be done.

13901328_10102734786158968_7224316368299274631_nSo there you have it, some of the ways I was able to save money during July.  This is most definitely not an exhaustive list, but I thought I’d throw a few things out there.  Right now I’ve continued the challenge into August.  While I’m not quite as strict as I was in July I’m really doing my best to save more, especially with my internship coming up next month!

 


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That Time I Ran With the Reindeer

I’ve often spoken about how my love for history and all things travel was sparked and fueled by my fathers (and grandfathers) extensive collection of National Geographics.  The sites, the cultures, the experiences, all so different from my little corner of the world.  I was completely captivated.

One of the events that has always captivated me was the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona.  While I never actually had any spark of desire within me to run with the bulls myself, the concept was just so interesting.

Enter Alaska.

Every spring, around the start of the famous Ititarod, Anchorage celebrates Fur Rendezvous aka Fur Rondy.  Being as this is Alaska and we have a lot of great nature things to do but not many non-nature activities, I always keep my eye out for new and exciting opportunities. So, when I took a look at this years Fur Rondy schedule and noticed an event called “The Running of the Reindeer” I was immediately intrigued.  I did a little research and immediately knew I had to do it.  I mean, a three block dash, in the snow, being chased by reindeer, while wearing costumes, what could be better?!

I immediately recruited a couple friends to do it with me and then we officially faced our first challenge.  What would we wear?  We considered many different options.  Mario characters, animals, minions…. Eventually we decided on Where’s Waldo.  A fun, cheap, and easy option.

Now lets fast forward to race day.  It’s no secret that our winter here in Alaska has been less than steller.  It’s been warmer that normal and slightly dry.  They actually had to bring in snow to cover 4th Ave for the race and other events there (Including the most important event of them all, the Ititarod, which had it’s ceremonial start that same morning).

Although our winter had been warmer than usual, the race day was still fairly cold.  I’m actually pretty impressed that I managed to fit three layers of clothes underneath my striped Waldo shirt.  Thank goodness for stretchy fabric!

About 30 minutes before the dash was about to start everyone began congregating in the middle of the street and it became such a fun atmosphere.  People were dressed in all sorts of costumes and it became one big photo-op with all the different groups wanting to get pictures with eachother, whether they were people you knew or not.  I can’t even begin to tell you how many photos we were in that day.

PicMonkey Collage1

The dash itself happened in 4 heats: Men, Women, Groups, and Tourists.  We signed up for the group heat because we were originally going to have our guy-friend Skylar join us, but afterwards we were definitely wishing we had done the womens heat. Why? Because the group heat was HUGE.  Definitely the biggest of them all.

Photo Mar 05, 4 14 35 PM (1)

We found more waldos!

When our time finally came to run we were pretty frozen from standing so long so we were ready to go.  Finally the announcer called for us to get ready, Hobo Jim started playing and song, and we were off.

Everything was great at first, but let me tell you, y’all, running in the snow is dang hard!  I probably made it 100 ft before I had to slow to a trot, but that’s ok because the reindeer were still nowhere in site (since our heat was soooooo large).  It actually got to the point where I thought I would finish the track before I even saw a reindeer so I slowed to a walk, and finally, about 2 blocks in the first reindeer came whizzing by, wedging itself quickly between me and my friend Leslie.  Soon there were reindeer all around.

PicMonkey Collage2

*I got these pictures off of Instagram.  I was obviously a little preoccupied during the dash

And then there was the last reindeer.  My empathetic side came out and I felt so bad for it.  It seemed scared and confused.  It would stop, turn around, run in circles.  By this point I had started jogging again and before I knew it this little scared reindeer was right in front of me… and then it stopped, and I bet you can guess what happened next.

Yep, I ran into a reindeer.

That’s right, the reindeer didn’t run into me, I ran into it.  Poor little thing.  Fortunately neither of us were knocked over.  Also fortunately it was one of the reindeer without a rack.

By the time we reached the end of the track my lungs were on fire and I was seeing stars.  Of course the paramedic in me started to diagnose myself.  It was like everything I had learned in class about perfusion and ventilation was coming to life, and I didn’t want it to.

Photo Mar 05, 4 45 18 PM (1)

After the dash.  Completely real emotions.  Feeling death.

In the end we all had a lot of fun. Would I do it again?  Possibly.  If I had a good group and good costumes to go along with it.  I will say it’s definitely a must-do at least once in your life.  You just can’t beat the experience!

 


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Eye Candy: Homer, AK

Hello my name is Amanda and I’m a tired Paramedic student.

Ok, now that I’ve gotten that out of the way… Recently I’ve been thinking more and more about how blessed I am to live in not only in Alaska, but on the Kenai Peninsula.  Guys, this place is really gorgeous!  Mountains, oceans, lakes, it’s never ending!  So, I thought I’d share some pictures today from my last trip to Homer, one of my favorite spots on the Peninsula, from when I visited at the end of last year.  It’s a small town without much to it, but it’s oh so beautiful.  While it’s fun to visit during the tourist season (the end of May to Labor Day Weekend) while everything on the Spit it open, there’s a certain magical quality of visiting Homer during it’s winter abandonment.

Homer Spit

Look across the Spit and Kachemak Bay.  The day, while freezing, couldn’t have been more perfect.

Homer Spit

The beach felt absolutely abandoned.  It’s such a unreal feeling to have a place like this all to yourself.

Homer Spit

The iconic Salty Dawg Saloons’ lighthouse rising up from the Spit.

Homer Spit

So, in the afternoon, as we were leaving the Spit in search of food we looked to the left and saw a bunch of creatures floating in the slushy bay.  Upon closer look we found at least 50 sea otters relaxing and playing in the surf.  I’d never seen so many otters (my favorite animal) in one place!

Homer Spit

Summer, Spring, Winter, Fall, no matter the season eagles can always be found hanging around.

Homer Spit

So there’s this spot, up on the hill behind Homer, where you can get a great vantage point over the city and the bay.  The absolute best place to watch the sunset.

And finally, just a quick shot of us and our freezing selves.  The air temp was in the teens so with the wind and Lands End (at the far tip of the Spit) it had to have been close to 0 degrees!

Homer Spit

So there’s some eye candy and travel inspiration for the day.  If anyone wants to come visit let me know!

 


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Here’s to 2014, Looking Back At This Last Year

Oh what the difference a year can make.  2013 was not a good year and by the end I was feeling terribly discouraged.  As I looked ahead to 2014 I had hope, hope that good things would happen and determination to make them so.  Now, as I reflect upon this last year I can confidently say it was everything I wanted and so much more.  I would even go so far as to say it was one of the best years of my life.

That’s funny for me to say considering the year contained one of the worst months of my life.  You see, March was not good to me.  It started out with terrible cement burns on my legs that made just moving a horrible chore and ended with a highly publisized controversy in relation to the organization I worked for that caused immense heartbreak for me and my co-workers.  Thankfully, when you hit the bottom there is nowhere you can go but up and give each blessing, big or small, that much more significance, and let me say, the rest of 2014 was full of them.

2014

In May after months of prayer and research I made the decision to apply to go back to school to finally become a paramedic.  It was a scary move for me and one I didn’t fully trust for another 2 months, but it ended up being one of the best decisions of my life.

At the end of June I once again headed to Tijuana, Mexico with my church to build homes for those in need and once I got home I was in full planning mode for the transition from full time employee to full time student.  At the end of July I officially gave my two weeks notice at World Vision and leaving was definitely bittersweet.  While working in a call center is not my calling in life (I actually hate talking on the phone) I couldn’t have worked for a better organization and my co-workers made each day so special.

2014

Mid- August brought the big move.  I loaded up my new car (Praise the Lord!  One of those blessings I was talking about earlier) and began the journey north to Alaska.

I got the incredible chance to spend the first half of the trip on the Alaska ferry traveling from Bellingham, WA to Haines, AK.  I saw sights I never imagined I would lay eyes on.  The inside passage is so gorgeous (when it’s sunny) and met so many great people.  The remaining drive to Soldotna was long and lonely but provided perfect time to think and reflect. In case you were wondering, Yukon territory really is as empty as you would imagine, go figure, but as soon as I pulled into the school after 3 days driving I knew I was home.

2014

This last semester I was given best friends, got to go on incredible adventures and laughed more than I had in 28 years.  I couldn’t feel more blessed.

2014

Now, as the year wraps up and I’ve officially got the first step in my pursuance of becoming a paramedic finished (EMT 1, hooray!) I eagerly look forward to what this next year will bring, and I remember that no matter what happens that God is good!

Happy New Year Everyone!  Here’s to 2015!


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The Alaska State Fair, Hiking Flattop & an Update on Life

It’s officially been a month.  To an extent that is so hard for me to believe but on the other hand so much has happened in these last 30 days that it’s felt like an eternity.  That and the fact that I pretty much waved goodbye to summer when I waved goodbye to Washington.  See, next week the rest of the country celebrates the official first day of fall, meanwhile, in Alaska Weather Underground tells me we’re going to have low temperatures in the 30’s, the 30’s people!  Where I come from that’s winter.  What am I going to do when it gets down to 0…. or lower?!

I’m in for it, I know it.

On a happier note I have great news, I got a job!  Yay! Praise the Lord!  I’ll now be working at the help desk for the IT department at my school.  I was getting to a point where financial stress was starting to get the best of me but God definitely provided.  Now I can pay my bills and I don’t even have to leave campus, which means I’ll be saving on gas too.  Woohoo!

Ok, onward to stories.

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Recently my Facebook feed has been flooded with pictures of friends back home enjoying the Washington State Fair (although it will always be the Puyallup fair in my heart and mind).  It’s made me a bit nostalgic.  The rides, the Hobby Hall, the Fischer Scones…

Over Labor Day weekend a friend of mine from my Liberty U days who lives in Anchorage with her family invited me to come spend the weekend with them and go to the Alaska State Fair in Palmer, and it was…. interesting.  Alaska may be the biggest state in the US but their state fair is not.  For you Washingtonians I would put it more on a level size-wise with the Western Washington Fair or even the King County fair.  But what the fair lacked size-wise it definitely made up for in character.

Alaska State Fair

Alaska State Fair

I can pretty much sum up the fair in two words: Fair Hair

Fair hair is face painting taken to an extreme level and at the Alaska State Fair apparently it’s the thing to do.  However, I do have one word of advice, on a 5 year old fair hair is adorable, but on a 15+ year old?  Not so much.

Alaska State FairMy friends sweet little daughter Isabelle.  She definitely had the best Fair Hair of the day.

We spent literally all day at the fair, from 10 am to 9-ish pm.  Definitely the longest I’ve ever spent at a fair ever.  It was ridiculously exhausting, but the day was packed with everything from lumberjack shows to acrobats to giant vegetables and of course fair food.  Just FYI, the corn fritters with honey butter are to DIE FOR.

…Now I want corn fritters and honey butter, bummer…

Alaska State Fair

Clockwise from left:  Fair games and prizes that are always near impossible to win; The obligatory elephant ear which was about half the size of the elephant ears I get at the WA state fair, just saying; Epic beard contest; Acrobat show

Alaska State Fair

Alaska State Fair

The real reason we were at the fair that day (and stayed so long) was to see the Robertsons from Duck Dynasty.  It was set up like a concert but it obviously didn’t include any singing.  It was more of a Q&A and just super fun and entertaining.  Not everyone from the family was there but we did have Phil and Kay of course, then Alan, Jep and good ‘ole Uncle Si.  I really, really enjoyed myself and I really appreciated their hearts.  Their faith is so evident in everything they say and do, it was so refreshing to see.

Some of my favorite quotes of the night? (there were many but I only had the mind to write down a few):
When asked what he thought of Alaskans-
Phil:”Alaskans are the best people because they kill and eat stuff.”
to which Si chimes in “Well that’s because they have things that kill and eat you.”

True Si, very, very true.

And later when Si was asked to describe himself he says “I see myself as an uncureable disease and they haven’t found a cure yet… I’m also like space, I go on and on and on.”

Also very true, haha.

Oh I’m so glad I went!  The tickets were $40 so I debated for awhile whether or not to go but it was so so worth it.  Just as entertaining in real life as on TV, even without Willie and Jase.

Alaska State FairThey wouldn’t let us take pictures using cameras and this is the best my little phone could do sadly.  I love that the venue was so small you could easily see everyone on stage.

After all of the excitement that occurred at the fair on Saturday we took Sunday to just hang around, go to church, relax, and in my case hit up the Apple Store in Anchorage since my Macbook Pro decided to stop working when I crossed the Alaska border (nothing that a new $80 power cord couldn’t fix, ouch!).

Then monday, before I started the long drive back to Soldotna we had one last adventure, climbing Flat Top.  I was told it’s an “easy” hike and one of the most popular hikes in Alaska since it’s so easily accessible from Anchorage, only a 15 minute drive.  Now for those of you that have no idea what Flat Top is (which, lets face it, is probably most of you) it’s simply a mountain, just east of the city that appears to be flat on top.  Yep, they got real creative with it’s name.

 It’s definitely a popular hike, the parking lot was packed by the time we got there around 11am, but an easy hike?  In my opinion no, but I’ll never say that any hike we’re you’re basically climbing up, up, up only to come down when you’re done is easy.

Flat Top HikeIt took us a good hour and a half to get to the top.  The first 3/4 of the hike is just a lot of walking up + stairs, but then the last quarter is brutal.  You’re basically rock climbing.  I mean, no gear was required or anything, but it would have been easy to slip and go tumbling down and get very, very injured if you’re not careful.  The difficulty of the hike however made the feeling when we reached the top that much sweeter.  There’s a big pole at the summit that serves as a “you officially made it, congratulations!” point, so of course we needed to take as many pictures as possible with it.

Flat Top Hike

Really it’s the view from the top that makes it worth it.  When you look west you can see Anchorage and the Cook Inlet.  We definitely got blessed with a gorgeous Labor Day to do the hike on.

Flat Top Hike

And then peaking around the next corner you can just catch a glimpse of the start of the Turnigan Arm which separates the Kenai Peninsula (where I live) from Anchorage.

Flat Top Hike

Flat Top Hike

Don’t those colors steal the show?  So beautiful.  You don’t just see colors like that naturally everywhere.  I didn’t even edit these photos, the colors are just that great.

After another hour or so of hiking down (hiking down that last quarter was almost harder than going up) we were officially pooped and starving so we hit up Mc D’s for lunch and then I started the long 2.5 hour trek home.  Thankfully I was going the opposite way of all the traffic and as you can see it was a sunny day, so it was a pretty nice drive. Not a drop of rain, even through Turnigan pass where there’s almost always clouds.

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The last few weeks have been filled with a number of adventures, big and small.  All of which I’m excited to share with you.  I have a feeling the bigger adventures will start to slow down as the weather gradually deteriorates and the days get shorter, but we’ll see.  Alaska is one big ball of unknowns to me right now and I find that the greatest adventure of all!


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Off to Alaska: Days 5 & 6

I purposefully planned the last 2 days of my road trip so that I would only have 6-7 hours of driving each day, so on day 5 I was in no hurry to get up.  I figured I could take my time and get rolling whenever so I ended up leaving the campground around 9:30.  Thankfully there wasn’t a rain cloud in the sky which I thought was a good sign compared to the last few days!

Alaska Highway

When I looked at a map it didn’t seem like I had far to go to reach the Alaska border so I thought the morning drive would be cake.

Oh was I wrong.

While I’d had some pretty bad stretches of road the day before the last stretch was by far the worst.  At one point I came upon a stoplight, in the middle of nowhere (which seemed really out of place) advising me to wait for a pilot car which comes around every 15 minutes.  Great.  So I turned off my car and settled in for the wait.

 Alaska HighwayThis seemed so out of place.

About 5 minutes later a RCMP officer (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) pulled up behind me and walked up to my window.  My first thought was that I was doing something wrong and didn’t even know it, but no, he just wanted to chat (since he was now stuck waiting for the pilot car too).  He asked me where I was from and where I was going.  I let him know I was moving to Alaska to go to Paramedic school and he thought that was pretty cool.  After our chat I didn’t have much longer to wait, only a couple minutes later the pilot car showed up and we were on our way.

I learned really quick why we needed a pilot car.  The road was crap and my car got a nice mud bath.  In fact my car is still covered in mud.  Even the rain won’t wash it off.  There must be something about  Yukon mud…

Alaska HighwayPlaying follow the leader.  This was a nice, muddy, bumpy 10 minute drive down half finished highway. (BTW, the original color of the pilot truck was white, betcha couldn’t tell)

About 30 minutes down the road, I rolled into Beaver Creek and thought it would be a good idea to get a little gas since I was pretty positive what I had in my tank wouldn’t get my to Tok.  I reluctantly put in 8 liters (just over 2 gallons).  At roughly $5.55 a gallon I couldn’t let myself get more without crying.

Just 2 minutes down the road I was excited to come upon the Canadian border station.  I pulled out my passport and got ready to head back into Alaska, and then I saw the sign…

US Border station: 30 KM.

Really?  That’s odd.  Why is there 30 KM of wilderness between the US and Canadian border stations?  I may never know.  And for some reason those 30 KM seemed to take FOREVER.  Thankfully when I finally reached the US border crossing there was no line (because honestly I hadn’t seen another car since Beaver Creek) and I got through without any issues.

Alaska HighwayStraddling the international border between Canada and the US.  There’s actually a stone obelisk marking the border as well as a 20 ft or so swath cut through the trees stretching as far as you could see.

Alaska HighwayYay!  Finally in Alaska!

Onward to Tok!  By this point I was starving and I could not wait for lunch.  Alaska is an hour behind Yukon so I set my clocks back an hour and headed on.  I had decided to stop at Fast Eddies in Tok for lunch because apparently it’s THE place to go.  They talked about it on the Milepost and they raved about it on the ferry.  Honestly I thought it was good, not extraordinary, but good.  It was definitely a nice break from driving and the first time I’d allowed myself to eat at a restaurant on the trip (aside from the two times I bought stuff on the ferry). I also saw my first state trooper while I was there, which is no big deal in real life but it made me super excited since I’ve probably watched every episode of Alaska State Troopers.  Love that show.

Alas I needed to keep moving on so I filled up my gas tank ($4.29/gallon, ouch!) and headed off.

The rest of the afternoon was rather unextraordinary.  After the incredible scenery in BC and the Yukon the sites from the Tok Cutoff where just kinda blah.  After I moved onto the Glenn Hwy things started looking prettier, thankfully, I was beginning to worry about all the grand visions I’d had of Alaska’s beauty and wondered if I was wrong about anything else.

Glenn HighwayThe Glenn Highway is when things started to get really pretty again.

Glenn Highway

I stayed that night not far from the Matanuska Glacier and overlooking the famous “Lions Head.”  I pulled into the campground and got set up right before the inevitable rain storm rolled in, thankfully it only stuck around for about 20 minutes and then it was all blue skies again.

Glenn HighwayWhere I camped for the night.  I snapped this pic before I set up my tent right there in front of my car.  That cool shaped mountain formation in the middle is Lions Head.

Glenn HighwayI may have been trapped in my car waiting out the rainstorm, but I had to step out for a second to take a picture of this pretty double rainbow over the campground.

I slept Ok that night, I did get pounded by another rainstorm and had moments when I thought a bear might come by and eat me (irrational), but I survived and by 9:30 the next morning I was on my way again.

I stopped briefly to take pictures of the glacier and then headed on to civilization.

Matanuska GlacierThe Matanuska Glacier as seen from the highway.  You can actually do glacier tours, but obviously I didn’t have time for that.

Anchorage did get a little confusing.  I managed to get on the wrong highway in town but I did end up finding my way in the end.  I met up with a college friend from Liberty for lunch, Sarah, at the Olive Garden and then began the last leg of the journey, which was also the part I was most excited about, the Seward Highway!

I had heard on so many occasions that the Seward Highway was gorgeous and since the day was sunny I knew I was in for a treat.

It didn’t disappoint.

Pardon the lack of pictures from this leg.  I was both really excited to get to the school and a bit pressed for time so I didn’t pull over anywhere (also I figured I’ll have plenty of chances to do it in the future), but trust me, this was the Alaska I’d always pictured.

Seward Highway

My not so great pictures of the Seward Highway.  I actually took them while driving.  I know, shame on me, but that tour bus in front of me was going 10 mph below the speed limit, that makes it a little better right?

Seward Highway

It’s actually a pretty sizable journey from Anchorage to Soldotna, about 2.5 hours.  Luckily, like I said, most of that is beautiful.  Sadly, the ugliest part is actually when you get closer to Soldotna.  You’ve left the mountains at that point and are surrounded instead by these strange stubby trees.  Oh well.

I pulled into the school around 4 in the afternoon unloaded my car and started to settle in, so relieved to be at my final destination.

I’ll write another blog later showing you guys around my new home, but thanks for following along my journey to get here, it really was an adventure and I can already tell that is going to be the theme for the year.  I can’t wait!


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Journey to Alaska: Let the Roadtrip Begin!

The wake up call my last day on the ferry was definitely early but not so bright.  We officially docked in Juneau (well, 12 miles outside the city actually) at 3:30 in the morning, and, despite the early hour the purser still came over the loud-speaker to announce our arrival, of course waking me up.  I think most others fell back asleep, I tried but for some reason I couldn’t.

Even though Alaska is “the land of the midnight sun,” this part of Alaska, and at this time of the year still has darkness early in the morning so there wasn’t a lot to see off the ship, so instead I just people watched, people getting on, people getting off, making up stories in my head of where everyone was going.

At 5:30 we finally pulled away and were on our way to Haines, my departure port.

Sometime during the night we had outrun the rain so I kept my fingers crossed that it would stay away.  I had heard that this was the most beautiful section of the journey with snow-capped mountains and glaciers.  unfortunately, even though the majority of the 4 hour journey was rain free, low clouds and fog made visibility poor.  Every now and again we would see something spectacular peek through a crack, but that was it, a small peek.

Alaska FerryThe first peek that there were good things behind all the clouds.

Alaska FerryAnd sometimes the clouds would part a little more to show something even more spectacular.

Alaska Ferry

Alaska FerryHanging out in the Solarium.

Alaska Ferry

Alaska Ferry

As we approached Haines my heart began to sink a little.  It was that same feeling you get when vacation is over and you know you have to go back to work.  Even though the ferry was far from luxury it was nice to allow someone else to do all the work for me for a few days while I sat back, read, took pictures and talked with new friends.  Even though I was excited to get to Soldotna I knew it was going to take a lot of work to get there and I would be by myself most of that time, so I just wasn’t looking forward to it.

As we pulled into Haines, new friends helped me carry my ungodly amount of items down to my car, making the three deck journey infinitely less painful.  I wasn’t sure how long they would give us before we needed to be off the ship so I wanted to make sure I was loaded up as quickly as possible.  It seems that I forgot the whole car elevator part though, because it was a good hour before I was off the ship.

I made a quick stop in Haines to give my Mom a call to let her know I was alive before crossing into Canada and then I was on my way.  The further I drove away from Haines the nicer the weather got, Thank goodness!

Alaska Roadtrip

I drove through an eagle sanctuary, where I didn’t see a single eagle (come on!) and 40 miles down the road officially crossed into British Columbia.

And, Oh. My. Gosh.

Tatshenshini-Alsek Provincial Park, which covers essentially the entire drive through BC along the Haines Highway is INSANE.  I don’t think I could ever think of the correct words to describe it or ever take a picture that would do it justice.  It was an otherworldly beauty.  Like being on top of the world, far above any tree-line, and the glaciers, oh the glaciers.  There were dozens of them.  Everywhere I turned there was a new glacier.  Guys, if you ever get a chance to drive this highway through the park, do it.  It’s so worth it.

Haines HwyYou can just see a glacier straight ahead.

Haines HwyI haven’t even edited this picture, these vivid colors were real.  It was amazing.

Haines Hwy

I was a little sad to leave the park but as I continued into the Yukon it was still beautiful, different, but beautiful, and just so you know, everything you’ve ever thought about the Yukon, you know, that no one lives there and that its vast stretches of empty wilderness, ya, it’s all true.  I felt like I pushed forever just to reach Haines Junction, the point where I would meet up with the Alaska Highway.  I thought I would find a nice little town when I got there, but seriously, blink and you’d miss it.  I was so confused.  It’s definitely not a town that you need to spend any time in.  I filled up my gas tank and headed on my way.

Alaska HwyThe sunshine in Yukon was a vast change from the rainy weather that morning.

About 45 minutes down the road I officially made it to Lake Kluane, the Yukon’s biggest lake, and it definitely lived up to all my expectations.  It was beautiful (and freezing!).  The water was a pretty glacial blue, so photogenic, so I found a place where I could pull over and take some photos.  I could have honestly spent hours there but I had no idea how long it would take me to reach my campground for the night. I’d heard this would be the most difficult portion of the Alaska Highway to drive (and boy was it rough), so I wanted to make sure to give myself enough time.

Alaska HwyLake Kluane with a couple cairns stacked in front.

Alaska Hwy

Alaska HwyLook at the color of the water.  So, so pretty.

Alaska Hwy

Alaska HwyThe bugs in Yukon y’all, there were SO MANY!  My windshield was gross.

Not even 30 seconds down the road, I look out my window and what do I see playing on the shores of the lake?  A big ‘ole brown bear (Aka grizzly).  It’s a good thing the road was empty because I slammed on my breaks and yelled “that’s a grizzly!” out of sheer excitement.  I didn’t stop and take any pictures, although looking back I wish I had, but it was a pretty cool site and one of only a couple of wildlife sittings I had on the whole drive (the other was a group of wild horses about an hour down the road).

The rest of the drive was pretty uneventful although very rainy.  I swear, I just couldn’t escape the stuff.

Alaska HwyThe road was terrible in many spots.  This is a small taste.  Later on it was full on gravel.

Alaska HwyThe rain would come in swift and hard.

Alaska HwyThen it would be as if the sun had never left.

Alaska Hwy

I ended up pulling into my campground around 5, it wasn’t raining at the time but the sky showed a real potential for it and I wasn’t excited in the least to set up my tent and spend the night in it, so when the owner of the campground offered to rent me one of their hard sided tents (it was only $10/night more) I jumped at the chance.  To have walls, a floor and a real bed?  Not a bad deal.

I moved in, cooked myself a bowl of ramen noodles for dinner and watched a movie, simply because I could.

Alaska HwyMy home for the night (the tent, not the car) at Discovery Yukon Lodgings.  I totally recommend this campground (they have cabins too!) for anyone traveling the Alaska Highway in the future.

Alaska HwyIt’s a bed, a real bed!

By 9:30 I was so wiped out I was more than ready for bed however I looked up and there was a spider on the ceiling directly above me.  Oh no, that was not going to work.  I jumped out of bed and did my best to explain to the spider that it needed to leave or I was going to be forced to kill it.  This went on for 20 minutes, 20 minutes!  I really tried but unfortunately in the end the spider had to meet its maker, I just couldn’t sleep otherwise.  The funny thing was though, as soon as I killed the spider I began to hear howling outside.

I thought “it can’t be…nah…..wolves???  wolves!” and a whole pack of them by the sound of it (at this point I was really VERY happy that I had opted not to sleep in my tent).  They could have been half a mile away, I’m not sure, but they sounded a lot closer, like feet away.  Way to close for comfort.

My thoughts?  Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore.

Stay tuned for one more blog post as I wrap up the journey with days 5 and 6!