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Active Travel Adventure Travel Fashion & Beauty Outdoors Packing

What to Pack for Patagonia: 36 Essentials

Soaring craggy peaks, jaw-dropping glaciers, and pristine forests await you in Patagonia. I spent two weeks trekking the classic “W” route in Torres del Paine National Park, Chile, and hiking around Mt. Fitz Roy in El Chalten, Argentina, sleeping in tiny refugios and campsites along the way. Here’s what made it onto my Patagonia packing list … and what I wish did.

What to Pack for Patagonia: The Backpack

I’m a chronic overpacker, so I forced myself to stick to the 50-liter limit of my trusty Osprey Aura AG backpack. The lightweight frame makes it easy to carry for hours, and plenty of pockets, zippers, and compartments keep me organized.

What to Pack for Patagonia: The Day Pack

A day pack gives you flexibility in your itinerary. Drop your backpack at camp, make a quick switcheroo, and move on up to the summit for the day. This water-repellent backpack from Sea to Summit gets the job done.

What to Pack for Patagonia: The Sleeping Bag

Refugios and campsites offer linens and sleeping bags at an additional cost, so you can probably get away with not bringing one. I’m a cold sleeper though, so I don’t regret bringing my lightweight sleeping bag, especially when temperatures dipped below 30 degrees one night at camp.

What to Pack for Patagonia: Flight and Bus Ride Essentials

  • Headphones: There’s not much space for traditional over-the-ear headphones, so I brought my tiny Bose SoundSport Wireless ones and an adapter for the charger.
  • Scarf: The Lululemon Vinyasa Scarf doubles as a blanket or a pillow in a pinch, which is why I never leave home without it.
  • Motion sickness medication: It takes more than 10 hours of travel to get from Torres del Paine to El Chalten on winding mountain roads, so you’ll want your motion sickness remedy of choice.

What to Pack for Patagonia: Shoes

  • Sturdy hiking boots or shoes: Make sure you’ve broken them in before you leave. Even a small blister or slightly ill-fitting shoe can mean misery for multi-day hikes, no matter how beautiful the trails are.
  • Waterproof camp shoes: These can do double duty as shower shoes and for relaxing at night.

What to Pack for Patagonia: The Jacket(s)

Since you can experience bright sunshine, torrential downpours, snowfall, and high winds all in the span of 15 minutes in Patagonia, layers are essential.

  • Insulated vest: The Patagonia Nano-Puff Vest is my go-to for any kind of hiking or running. It keeps me super warm but is so light I barely notice wearing it. (It’s also available for men.)
  • Mid-weight windbreaker: Layer the vest with a midweight windbreaker (like this one for women or this one for men) when you’re hiking or the sun is out.
  • Warm coat: Keep a really warm puffy coat close by for the summits, around camp, and when the weather turns particularly nasty. Bonus: My L.L.Bean one is packable. (See a similar option for men here.)

What to Pack for Patagonia: Rain Gear

It will rain for some or all of your trip, so be prepared. The trails are well maintained, and with the proper gear, you can still have a great day.

  • Raincoat: The Patagonia Torrentshell 3L Jacket fit perfectly over my puffy coat and kept me warm and dry. (Check out a similar option for men here.)
  • Backpack cover: If your pack doesn’t have one, you’ll want to make sure you bring a cover. It’s best to find one that fits perfectly so it stays secure in the wind and rain—this Osprey Ultralight Raincover matches mine.

What to Pack for Patagonia: Clothing

  • Convertible hiking pants: They may be nerdy, but they’re also necessary in a region with so many weather changes.
  • Long-sleeve shirts: You won’t need short-sleeve shirts unless you’re warm in 40-degree weather. Stick with technical long-sleeve shirts—I brought one base layer and two lighter hiking shirts.
  • Tights or leggings: I brought two pairs of tights since that’s what I prefer to hike in—one at mid-calf and one long pair.
  • Cozy lounge wear: I saved one pair of joggers and one fleece pullover for relaxing around camp.
  • Socks: Get yourself several pairs of wool socks for hiking, and at least one for relaxing.

What to Pack for Patagonia: Toiletries

  • Sunscreen: It’s a must since you can burn even when it’s cloudy.
  • Multi-purpose soap: One of the best perks of hiking the “W” is that you can shower at almost every campsite and refugio. I love Bronner’s since it’s multi-purpose—shampoo, body wash, and clothing wash all in one (plus, it’s environmentally friendly).
  • Face wipes: On days without showers, these will get the grime and dirt off your skin.
  • Moisturizer: With so much wind, don’t leave it behind.
  • Over-the-counter medications: No matter where you travel, always bring some over-the-counter medication with you, especially remedies for upset stomach and pain, as well as an antihistamine in case of an allergic reaction.
  • Bandages: Taking care of blisters can make a big difference in your comfort level when you’re walking in hiking boots all day.

What to Pack for Patagonia: Gadgets

  • Headlamp: These are handy to help you get around camp and the refugios once the electricity goes out at night.
  • High-quality camera: Photos won’t do Patagonia justice, but it’s worth a shot (pun intended).
  • Universal adapter: Chile and Argentina use different plug setups and voltages.
  • Portable phone charger: Because you won’t always have electricity.

What to Pack for Patagonia: Accessories

  • Hat: I mostly used my baseball cap, though mornings at camp definitely warranted a warm hat.
  • Multi-purpose buff: I love hiking with one of these because they’re suitable for just about every type of weather.
  • Micro-towel: I follow the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy philosophy and always travel with a towel.
  • Large water bottle: You can drink the water right out of the streams and rivers on the trails in Patagonia. Pack a reusable water bottle to stay hydrated.
  • Sunglasses: Glaciers throw off glare, so when the sun does come out, you’ll want some shades.

What to Pack for Patagonia (That I Didn’t)

  • Collapsible trekking poles: These would have been handy on some hikes. Note that airlines require you to bring them in a checked bag, or you can rent a pair in either Puerto Natales or El Chalten.
  • Rain pants, rain pants, rain pants: They will make your life less miserable than mine was, and significantly drier, too.
  • Poncho: I’m glad I stuffed an extra trash bag into my pack at the last minute, but next time I’d bring a poncho. Did I mention it rains a lot in Patagonia?

What Not to Pack for Patagonia

Unless you’re going off the beaten path, you won’t need traditional backpacking gear like a tent, sleeping pad, pots and pans, mess kit, or a stove on your Patagonia packing list. You can rent these items from almost any refugio or gear store in town if you feel like you need them once you’re there.

Chileans and Argentineans are very casual, so you won’t need anything dressy (even jeans) unless you’re planning on going to one of the major cities before the hiking portion of your trip. Otherwise, save that space for an extra layer or two.

Overall, when packing for Patagonia, keep in mind that less is more when you’re carrying everything on your back. While it may be tempting to bring lots of clothes or accessories, just remember that every ounce counts—and you wouldn’t want anything to distract you from the incredible scenery.

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Always in search of adventure, Kayla Voigt hails from Hopkinton, Massachusetts, the start of the Boston Marathon. You can usually find her at the summit of a mountain or digging into a big bowl of pasta. Say hi on Instagram @klvoigt.

Categories
Packing Travel Technology Travel Trends

7 Travel Electronics the Least Tech-Savvy Travelers Will Love

Not all travelers are packing high-tech travel electronics or plugging in every chance they get, but there are plenty of everyday items that travel better when they incorporate some technology. These travel electronics provide low-tech solutions to common travel challenges like staying in touch, easily sourcing potable water, and protecting your personal property while traveling.

These are the best travel electronics, ranging from those with charge-free simplicity to low-tech gadgets that require little to no tinkering.

RFID-Blocking Wallet or Purse

 rfid-blocking-wallets

Safeguard yourself from electronic pickpockets looking to lift personal data from chips inserted in passports, IDs, and credit cards. Simply put those important documents in RFID-blocking wallets like this spacious women’s leather clutch or this men’s passport wallet, which makes room for cash and cards, too.

Water-Filtering Bottle

 LifeStraw go water filter bottle

A low-tech solution to sourcing clean, potable water, a filtration water bottle means you can hydrate at just about any water source. The LifeStraw Water-Filtering Bottle claims to filter out 99.9 percent of water-borne bacteria, making even the grossest water drinkable. That includes water from questionable sources such as ponds and lakes when you’re camping, and tap water in destinations where you’d normally not drink from the faucet.

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Universal Power Adapter

 BESTEK universal travel adapter 220v

It’s time to upgrade your universal power adapter. Today’s adapters simultaneously perform prong-adapting and power-converting duties, so your gadgets don’t get fried in nations with different voltages. Amazon’s most popular power adapter/converter is the Bestek Universal Power Adapter, which can charge seven items at once. 

Charging Phone Case

Lonlif battery case for iphone

You can map your destination, stay in touch with everyone, and keep your entertainment accessible while traveling—but you can only do that if your phone has battery life. The best way to keep your phone charged without having to carry all those cables is by popping your phone in a charging phone case. Make sure to get a charging phone case that fits your particular phone’s model, and one that’s waterproof, to boot.

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E-Reader

amazon prime perks reading

Who has space to spare in their luggage when we’re all just trying to avoid paying bag fees? Lighten your load by trading in paperbacks for an e-reader. The latest iteration of the Amazon Kindle holds twice the amount of content, is waterproof, and starts at $129 (check for sales during the holiday shopping period).

Tracking Device

tile key finder

Ever get distracted by the sights and suddenly realize one of your valuables is gone? Quickly locate lost items with a tracking device like Tile. The tracking device will ring when in range of a member of the Tile community, and its location will be shown on the Tile app even if you’re out of range. Attach a tracking device to your luggage, camera, keys, phone, wallet, purse, or anything else you’d be hard-pressed to replace.

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Fitness Tracker

Use a fitness-tracking device such as the Fitbit to keep key health metrics such as heart rate, spent calories, and sleep patterns at your fingertips. Achieving weight-loss goals is easier thanks to fitness trackers that help you count steps while you’re on the road. Fitbit Pay on newer models also now offers the ability to pay on-the-go. If you’re willing to go a little more high-tech, Smartwatches can also be used as fitness trackers.

Travel in Comfortable Style

No matter where you’re headed on your next trip, comfort is key during travel. Show off your high-tech gear with a cozy yet fashionable style to pair.

For info on these editor-selected items, click to visit the seller’s site. Things you buy may earn us a commission.

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Patricia Magaña refuses to succumb to travel electronics like e-readers and instead makes room in her bag for a good book. Follow her on Instagram @PatiTravels.

Categories
Active Travel Adventure Travel Fashion & Beauty Outdoors Packing

I Let the Pros Pack For Me: Hiking Edition

On a recent hiking trip to Yosemite, I did something I’d never done before: I let the pros pack for me.

I take packing very seriously (probably too seriously, the effect of having written packing tips for 15 years), so it was a pretty big leap of faith to turn my suitcase over to JAM Collective, which represents companies that have been making beloved outdoor gear for decades.

What I Would Have Packed (left to my own devices): I have a few key pieces of what I think of as my outdoor adventure wardrobe: Title Nine Clamber pants, my trusty Tilley hat, and an old leather pair of Vasque hiking boots that just keep on keepin’ on. But beyond that, my spring and summer hiking go-tos look a lot like my casual-weekend staples: cotton T-shirts and shorts, sports socks, and the like. I’ve long accepted that this approach yields imperfect results: cotton T-shirts, for instance, don’t wick sweat, stay damp for longer—and in the worst case scenarios, are dangerous. But I didn’t think there would be that much of a difference, so I hadn’t invested in additional key pieces of hiking clothing.

The Pro Gear: I received Vasque Breeze LT Low GTX hiking shoes, Prana Halle Straight leg pants, SmartWool Everyday Exploration T-shirt, Prana Eileen Long Sleeve Sun Shirt, SmartWool Merino 250 Base Layer Crew, SmartWool Merino Sport Ultra Light Hoodie.

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The Testing Ground: My big hike on a recent trip to Yosemite was the round-trip Nevada Falls hike, which covers 2,000 feet of elevation change over 6.5 miles of gorgeous, rugged terrain. The trek includes the famous Mist Trail, an enchanting but treacherous stretch of 600 steep and slippery granite steps that’s constantly showered by the heavy mist flowing off the adjacent Vernal Falls. It also includes a four-mile stretch on the famous John Muir Trail, a 211-mile trail that takes hikers through some of California’s wildest and most beautiful lands. (Note: If you’re visiting Yosemite and are in reasonably good shape, you should do this hike. Especially if you can do it in late spring when the waterfalls are raging.)

The Results: It turns out wearing the right gear for the job makes a huge difference. Not only did having the right layers mean I could adapt easily and comfortably for temperature changes, but it allowed me to dry within minutes after reaching the top of Vernal Falls soaking wet after finishing the more-like-a-firehose-than-mist Mist Trail. And having lightweight, sun-protective layers kept me comfortably cool and sunburn-free throughout the long day. A few years ago, while traveling the wild western coast of Sweden, a wise grandmother told me there was no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing. After traveling with the exact right clothing for the situation, I finally understand.

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The Details:

Vasque breeze lt low gtx hiking shoes

Vasque Breeze LT Low GTX Hiking Shoes (also available for men; and comes as a hiking boot for women and men): My first pair of Vasques has lasted me 25 years and counting. In that quarter century, however, Vasque has been busy making hiking shoes and boots lighter and more supportive. These shoes required very little breaking in—I wore mine around town three or four times before hitting the trail, which was a good but not totally necessary move—and were comfortable from the get-go. Their grip—aided by custom Vibram outsoles—was exceptional; I felt surefooted even on wet granite. They stayed comfortable all day, and supported my feet and ankles on uneven trails.

Halle straight

Prana Halle Straight leg pants: These hiking pants are durable but stretchy—a winning combo on hiking trips that include scrambling up rocks and snack breaks on boulders. The back pockets (which button) were wide and deep enough to hold a phone in a case, and the roll-up legs made it easy to shift gears for hot afternoons and stream wading. After getting completely soaked on the Mist Trail, these pants remained comfortable and dried quickly.

SmartWool everyday exploration t-shirt

SmartWool Everyday Exploration T-shirt: When I first tried this on, I appreciated the well-styled touches like the split hem bottom and the flattering fit. But wearing it on a hike that included a cold morning, hot afternoon, and thorough waterfall-induced soaking gave me a new level of appreciation for the wicking power and temperature regulation of this 50 percent Merino wool, 50 percent polyester shirt.

woman wearing prana eileen shirt

Prana Eileen Long Sleeve Sun Shirt: Having relied on always-too-hot cotton long-sleeves shirts as a sun layer for years, I was surprised at the impressive functionality of an actual sun shirt. Wearing this ultralightweight top that’s rated UPF 50+ was an aha moment that made me embrace the right-gear-for-the-job mentality. Even as the day heated up and I sweated my way up the granite switchbacks, I stayed comfortable and sun protected thanks to the lightweight, wicking fabric. Bonus: the contrast stitching gives this practical shirt a bit of style, and a zippered pocket makes it easy to stash an item or two and travel light.

 

Women's merino 250 base layer crew

SmartWool Merino 250 Base Layer Crew:  Warmth without bulk; that’s the magic of this best-selling baselayer. It’s comfortable, it’s cozy, and when you don’t need it anymore, it takes up almost no room in a day bag. Because it’s such an effective base layer, it allowed me to rely on thinner, lighter outer layers—which freed up space in my day pack.

Glerups

Glerups: When I first saw Glerups, I wasn’t quite sure how to use them. They look not unlike slippers with rubber (or leather) soles, but they’re more rugged and hip in a confident Scandinavian way. It wasn’t until someone explained to me that these Danish mainstays are the perfect recovery shoe—the ones you keep in your car and slip into after you return from a day of hiking—that I experienced the life-changing power of socially acceptable outdoor slipper wearing. After hiking all day, these ultra-comfortable felted wool shoes (that come in boot, shoe, and slipper styles) offered sweet relief. And since they’re made to be worn both out- and indoors, I wore them for the rest of the day—right through to the s’mores and whiskey campfire end of the evening.

Hiking with the right gear—as opposed to with approximations of the right layers—was a vastly more comfortable experience than I’m used to. Since I wasn’t bouncing between being too hot and too cold, I could concentrate on the hike—which yielded Yosemite Valley views, two bear sightings, and waterfall dousings. I used to think that performance-wear was really only worth it for people who were hiking all the time. But now I see the feedback loop: outdoor performance-wear makes hiking more comfortable and pleasant. We’re all more likely to repeat activities that are comfortable and pleasant. The Swedish grandmother was right: outfit yourself well, and you’ll always be ready for the outdoors no matter what the weather.

More from SmarterTravel:

Christine Sarkis visited Yosemite as a guest of Jam Collective. Follow her on Twitter @ChristineSarkis and Instagram @postcartography for more advice about making every vacation the best vacation.

Some review products are sent to us free of charge and with no incentive to offer a favorable review. We offer our unbiased opinions, positive and negative, and will never accept compensation to review a product.

 

 

Categories
Adventure Travel Health & Wellness Outdoors

Does Natural Mosquito Repellent Actually Work?

Warm summer days bring sunshine, vacations, and blissful time spent outdoors. But they also bring swarms of mosquitoes and other insects out to get their fill—which could leave you trying to figure out how to protect yourself and loved ones from painful bites and stings that could trigger allergy or disease.

This is when many people consider trying a natural mosquito repellent, hoping that these products might be better for their health and the environment than standard bug sprays. But do natural mosquito repellents work?

According to University of California, Davis entomologist Walter Leal, who has done pioneering research on insects’ sense of smell, the answer is “Yes and no.”

DEET vs. Natural Mosquito Repellent

According to Leal, the common chemical DEET (N, N-diethyl-meta-toluamide), remains the most effective repellent on the market—the gold standard in fending off insects. It works by “blinding” mosquitoes to human presence by preventing them from smelling human sweat and breath.

“I wish I could say that there’s a better natural mosquito repellent,” says Leal, “but that’s not the case. One major problem with some natural products is the so-called complete protection time. They work for a short duration, but they don’t last long enough. Do people want to reapply a product every two to three hours? No. And they would forget to do it.”

Leal says that if people know that they’re going to be outside for only a short period of time, it’s okay to use a citronella-based repellent, or another natural bug spray that has shown short-duration effect, including compounds like eugenol, linalool, citral, and geraniol. But people shouldn’t expect these natural insect repellents to work for longer than about an hour, or for them to be as effective as DEET.

“Because they are volatile,” Leal explains, “natural insect repellents release a large [number] of molecules per time. This makes them work, but not for too long. DEET is a chemical of low volatility, so it releases a lower number of molecules per time and lasts longer.”

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Is Natural Bug Spray Safer Than DEET?

What about the perception that DEET is more toxic than natural mosquito repellent, both to human health and to the natural environment?

“I think people sometimes get a little too nervous using so-called ‘synthetic’ products,” says Ari Whiteman, the director of Charlotte, North Carolina’s Urban Mosquito Project and an epidemiology fellow at the Centers for Disease Control. “Yet two large-scale reviews by the EPA have found that DEET ‘does not present a health concern.’ While natural insect repellents have shown inconsistent levels of effectiveness that may vary between species, DEET is widely effective [and] safe, and should not be avoided simply because it is not a compound that naturally exists in nature.”

Leal concurs, pointing out that no chemical is completely safe: “One may die by drinking too much water. It is all about the cost-benefit, and a matter of balancing how much risk is worth taking. I would say that the risks of wearing DEET are very low compared with the benefit of not being infected with mosquito-borne viruses like dengue, Zika, chikungunya, yellow fever, and West Nile. Because DEET has been on the market for such a long time, it carries lots of baggage, but has been scrutinized many, many times. DEET has been evaluated by the FDA often, and they always conclude that it is safe to use. I wear it and recommend it for my family.”

Whiteman adds that it’s important to note that the terms “natural” and “non-toxic” are not interchangeable, since there are plenty of natural compounds that are highly toxic, as well as plenty of artificial compounds that are completely safe. “The majority of studies indicate that DEET is the most effective mosquito repellent for the longest period of time,” he affirms. “In comparative studies, natural insect repellents have turned in mixed results.”

Regarding environmental concerns related to DEET, “there really aren’t any,” Whiteman says. “It’s applied to the skin, so there is minimal risk of it entering waterways or vegetation. Some studies show it being slightly toxic to fish and birds, but the animals’ contact with it is so limited that there isn’t really anything to worry about in terms of environmental ramifications. Basically it breaks down so fast—days to weeks—that it doesn’t have time to have a major impact.”

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A Non-Toxic Mosquito Repellent Made of Essential Oils

Still, there are plenty of people who, despite assurances from scientists that DEET is safe, prefer to use natural bug sprays. Abby Phon, a certified holistic health and wellness coach, traveled to South Africa and planned to get pregnant after that trip. “I wasn’t crazy about the anti-malaria meds and wanted to do my best to avoid DEET,” she recalls. “I was doing my best to keep my environment and body as non-toxic as possible, so I used a homemade essential oil blend as a non-toxic bug spray instead. It was a success—I didn’t get any mosquito bites.”

When Phon’s daughter was three months old, she took her family out to the country and used the same oil blend. “It was amazing how after one spray, the bugs that were swarming us at lunch disappeared instantly and never came back,” she remembers. “That was six years ago, and I’ve never used another bug spray since.”

Her recipe for non-toxic mosquito repellent? Mix a tablespoon of witch hazel with the following amounts of pure essential oils from a brand called Young Living: 15 drops of cedarwood, 15 drops of geranium (to repel ticks), 10 drops of citronella, and 10 drops of palo santo, and put the mixture into a two-ounce glass spray bottle. “Not all essential oils are the same,” Phon warns, “and it’s important to know what you are using.”

Anecdotal experiences aside, Whiteman acknowledges that there is some research-based evidence that eucalyptus oil can be as effective as DEET for repelling Aedes aegypti, the mosquito which spreads Zika, dengue, chikungunya, and yellow fever.

“That’s no longer a common species in the U.S., though,” he explains, “and the species that replaced it here, Aedes albopictus, doesn’t seem to be affected by eucalyptus oil at all, so DEET remains the best option to protect against them. Other comparison studies also find that DEET consistently outperforms ‘natural’ mosquito repellents, including citronella.”

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How Strong an Insect Repellent Do You Need?

Asked whether Leal would want the public to know anything specific about using insect repellents, he pointed to his team’s research that suggests that people should use a higher percentage of DEET to fend off infected mosquitoes.

“The most dangerous mosquitoes are the old females,” he says, “because there’s more of a chance that they’ve been infected with a virus, and they’ve had enough time to let that virus replicate in their body. Now that old mosquito is dangerous. The problem is that old mosquitoes are less sensitive to DEET.”

If you’re wearing DEET just to rid yourself of nuisance mosquitoes, 6 to 7 percent DEET-based products are fine. When you’re traveling in an endemic area, however, Leal emphasizes that it’s important to wear a higher concentration of DEET—between 25 and 30 percent.

Circling back around to the question of whether natural bug sprays really work, the answer appears to be yes—but with plenty of caveats. If you choose to go with a natural bug spray over DEET, do so with the knowledge that you’re taking more of a chance of getting bitten, and therefore infected, than you would if you went with DEET, which science says is the safest and most trusted bug spray there is, at least for now.

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Categories
Active Travel Adventure Travel Health & Wellness Outdoors

7 Adventure Tours You’ll Need a Doctor’s Note For

Are you ready for a heart-pounding adventure? Better talk to your doctor first. The following adventure tours are designed to challenge travelers physically and mentally, so you’ll need to confirm that you’re fit enough to complete them. From remote shores to steep climbs and long-distance feats, these trips are not for the faint of heart.

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Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro

 The highest mountain in Africa, Kilimanjaro is one of the world’s most popular summits with anywhere between 30,000 and 50,000 climbers per year—but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Although you won’t need any mountaineering skills to reach the summit, it’s a steep climb, and you need to be in good enough shape to walk uphill for at least six hours a day. Then there’s the altitude, which can sometimes worsen pre-existing medical conditions. That’s why it’s imperative you check in with your doctor first. On many guided tours, like Intrepid Travel’s Kilimanjaro: Machame Route, you’ll be required to fill out a self-assessment form; Intrepid Travel strongly recommends that you do so with your doctor.

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[viator_tour destination=”5589″ type=”3-mod” tours=”106724P4,91108P2,58117P2″]

Cruising to Antarctica

Cruise ship in antarctica with penguins

When you decide to travel to Antarctica, it doesn’t matter if you’re climbing mountains with a luxury adventure tour operator like White Desert or just taking a scenic cruise around the peninsula; you’ll need to get the stamp of approval from your doctor first. When I traveled to Antarctica with Hurtigruten, I was required to bring a filled-out questionnaire with a stamp from my primary care doctor. On day one of the cruise, the onboard medical team met with every passenger in person to go over their forms. Antarctica is remote and uninhabitable, and if I had any undisclosed health issues come up during the trip, the nearest hospital would have been thousands of miles away.

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[viator_tour destination=”78″ type=”3-mod” tours=”141924P1,12424P15,5674BACITY”]

Running a Marathon on Mount Everest

If trekking to the base camp of the world’s tallest peak isn’t a big enough accomplishment for you, why not add a marathon on top? Commemorating the day Tenzing Norgay Sherpa and Sir Edmund Hillary summited the mountain in 1943, the Tenzing-Hillary Marathon occurs every year at the base camp on May 29th. Extreme races like this happen all over the world, but with One World Expeditions, you can add an extra challenge on top of your trip to Nepal. Before the race, you’ll take a three-week tour that starts in the capital city of Kathmandu and includes nine days of trekking before the race. In order to participate in the race, you are required to submit a doctor-signed medical form to assure that you are healthy and show no signs of experiencing discomfort at high altitude.

[viator_tour destination=”724″ type=”3-mod” tours=”9984P34,69301P3,64910P32″]

Skiing to the North Pole

Unlike the South Pole, which sits on land, the only thing under the North Pole is ice, which makes it pretty tough to get to. You could take a helicopter or an icebreaker to reach it, but if you want to feel like you really earned it, skiing there is also an option. With Action Culture, you can follow in the ski trails of the Arctic explorers and make your way from Canada to the North Pole, one step at a time—but the company won’t take just anyone’s money. You’ll need to apply for the trip first and supply a doctor’s certificate to prove that you are both physically and psychologically fit for 60 days on the ice. The adventure tour begins with a week of training and from day eight through day 57, the itinerary simply reads: “Ski across the dynamic pack ice of the Arctic Ocean towards the North Pole.”

[viator_tour destination=”4492″ type=”3-mod” tours=”23939P21,126401P2,57445P24″]

Sky Diving into the Blue Hole

In Belize, you can experience an all-day adrenaline rush with a sky-to-water dive into the famous Blue Hole. On Pelorus’ 7-Day Reefs and Ruins Experience, you’ll start the week by jumping out of a helicopter. After you fall through the sky and land in the Blue Hole, a team will be waiting to help you set you up for your next dive into the underwater sinkhole. Completing both dives in one day puts a lot of pressure on the body, so Pelorus requires all its clients “to be approved medically fit by a qualified doctor” before participating.

[viator_tour destination=”746″ type=”3-mod” tours=”4110SPRSN,62697P3,59950P7″]

Cage Diving with Great White Sharks

From San Diego, you can enjoy five uninterrupted days of cage diving in the shark-infested waters of Mexico’s Guadalupe Island with Horizon Charters. You’ll stay on the boat with meals prepared by the onboard chef so you can dedicate your day to shark watching. The adventure tour operator welcomes novice divers, but you’ll need to consult with your doctor first if you have any issues with hypertension, high blood pressure, diabetes, or other medical conditions.

[viator_tour destination=”26132″ type=”3-mod”]

Climbing an Active Volcano

REI Adventures offers a whole suite of adventure tours at different levels of difficulty from relaxed to strenuous. One challenging tour that you can do in a weekend is the Mount Shasta Climb, a three-day journey to the summit of an active volcano in Northern California. You’ll set up your base camp, with the help of REI’s expert climbing guides, at 9,000 feet and be given a lesson in snow mountaineering before taking on the summit. In order to avoid slippery conditions caused by melting snow in the afternoon, you’ll start your climb long before sunrise at 2:00 a.m. REI  requires that you provide medical approval before participating in this physically challenging experience.

[viator_tour destination=”272″ type=”3-mod” tours=”6004HIKE,49411P4,7011P7″]

More from SmarterTravel:

Jamie Ditaranto is a writer and photographer always looking for her next adventure. Follow her on Twitter @jamieditaranto.

Categories
Food & Drink LGBT Outdoors Weekend Getaways

How to Do a Weekend in Guerneville, California

[st_content_ad]Tucked among Sonoma County’s majestic redwoods a few miles from the Pacific Ocean sits the small town of Guerneville. This small town, with a cool vibe, has long been a haven for LGBTQ+ travelers, but is welcoming to all, and is the perfect addition to your Sonoma adventure. Here are some of my favorite things to do, places to stay, and meals to enjoy.

where to stay, eat, and play in guerneville, california

Things to Do

Guerneville’s cool-but-welcoming vibe is on brilliant display than in its downtown. Cafes, restaurants, and bars mixed in among the boutiques, clothing shops, antique stores, and art galleries. And when you’re ready to get beyond downtown, there’s plenty of adventure to greet you.

Dense redwood forests and a river that snakes past the downtown on its way to the Pacific a few miles away keep natural beauty close at hand in Guerneville. Embrace the coastal chill with a walk through the redwoods at Armstrong Redwoods. Wander among thousand-year-old trees, some of which are over 300 feet tall. Pack a picnic or go for a hike; just make sure to leave enough time to sit quietly among these magnificent giants.

In the warmer months, swim, float, or boat in the Russian River as it flows through Guerneville. This accessible stretch of the river is the perfect spot to kayak or canoe, swim, float, pedal boat, or fish. Johnson’s Beach is a popular hot spot for sun seekers and swimmers.

Ready for wine tasting? Choose among more than 50 wineries within a 20-minute drive of Guerneville. The famed Russian River Valley wine region is known for its Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Sparkling wine fans can stop at Korbel California Champagne Cellars, North America’s oldest continually operating champagne house.

Hotels

boon hotel + spa: This small boutique hotel makes the most of its surroundings. Centrally located in downtown Guerneville, the adults-focused hotel offers rooms in cottages arranged around a central area that includes a firepit and swimming pool. Rooms feature cool extras like record players (each room comes stocked with a selection of vintage vinyl) and fireplaces.

Autocamp Russian River: Choose from luxury Airstream trailers, well-appointed glamping tents, or handcrafted Shelton Huts at Autocamp Russian River. Boutique hotel bedding, sleek modern interiors, and a mid-century modern clubhouse elevate the almost-but-not-quite camping experience.

Cottages on River Road: Embrace life in the woods at the Cottages on River Road. Individual cottages (complete with refrigerators, microwaves, decks, and Wi-Fi) cluster around a welcoming lawn, and a firepit and seasonal pool provide plenty of onsite activities for families and couples.

Johnson’s Beach – Cabins and Campground: Johnson’s Beach has been a popular summer day sunning and swimming spot for nearly a hundred years, and you can extend a visit by spending the night at one of 37 tent camping spots spread over 3.5 acres. Prefer walls? Johnson’s also has 10 cabins (some with kitchenettes) dating back to the 1920s that offer a rustic but elegant step up from camping.

[st_related]Glamping Tips: 8 Questions to Ask Before You Go[/st_related]

Food + Drink

Big Bottom Market: Yes you’ll find plenty of culinary treasures at the Big Bottom Market, but don’t let a basket brimming with picnic supplies distract you from your mission to try the famous biscuits. Order these dense yet flaky wonders (they made Oprah’s list of her favorite things) sweet, savory, or as a breakfast sandwich.

Boon Eat + Drink: Russian River wines and local microbrews pair with the modern California cuisine that embraces the seasonal bounty of surrounding Sonoma County. Likewise, the comfortable and urban-chic surroundings pair perfectly with personable, small-town service.

Chile Pies Baking Co.: Surprising pies in an unusual location—that’s the charm of the Guerneville outpost of Chile Pies Baking Co. Head to the historic Guerneville Bank Club where you can order seasonal classic pies or unique offerings like green chili apple pie and blended pie milkshakes.

Stumptown Brewery: This small, local brewery offers a rotating list of Stumptown-brewed beers, plus guest taps featuring other local makers. There’s also plenty of food at the Grill, and unbeatable views of the Russian River from the deck.

Get Here

Guerneville is about two hours from San Francisco International Airport or about 25 minutes from the Sonoma County Airport.

[viator_tour destination=”914″ type=”3-mod” tours=”41404P5,6165P2,5373SEGLOOP”]

More from SmarterTravel:

Christine Sarkis recently spent the day in Guerneville and Sonoma as a guest of the Sonoma Tourism Board. Follow her on Twitter @ChristineSarkis and Instagram @postcartography for more advice about making every vacation the best vacation.

Categories
Health & Wellness Packing

Goodwipes Review: A Back-Up Shower for Long Travel Days

On a long travel day, a shower is an elusive but critical accomplishment. And unless you have lounge access or you’re booking an airport hotel, you’ll be hard-pressed to find one at the airport. For freshness you can take with you for any situation, a pack of extra-large Goodwipes can really save the day.

Goodwipes Review:

Price and Where to Buy: A pack of ten Goodwipes is $10 on Amazon.

[st_content_ad]How Goodwipes Rate:

  • Usefulness: 8/10. These wipes are extra-large, so one will be enough to freshen up your whole body. I also appreciate that they’re alcohol-free, leaving skin feeling neutral and not dried-out or sticky.
  • Value: 9/10. At a dollar per wipe, a pack of these is a steal. One wipe was enough for my whole body twice-over, so you probably won’t need to use as many as you think.
  • Durability: 10/10. Goodwipes are light but sturdy, so there’s no need to worry about tearing or disintegration as you use them.
  • Portability: 10/10. The single-packet design of these wipes makes them easy to keep in just about any bag you have, so you can keep one handy throughout your trip to use at any time.
  • Cool Factor: 10/10. They smell good, work well, and they’re biodegradable.

Final Verdict: A wipe-down, even one infused with tea-tree oil and peppermint, is no replacement for the resetting-power of a hot shower. But Goodwipes come as close as you can get.

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More from SmarterTravel:

Editor’s Note: Reviews are based on usefulness, portability, durability, value, and “cool factor.” Some review products are sent to us free of charge and with no incentive to offer a favorable review. We offer our unbiased opinions, positive and negative, and will never accept compensation to review a product. If you have any questions or comments concerning our reviews or would like to suggest a product for review, please email us at editor@smartertravel.com.

Categories
Health & Wellness Outdoors Packing Road Trip

LEUS Yoga Towel Review: A Multi-Purpose Necessity That Won’t Take Up Space in Your Bag

A towel is the one thing you probably think you don’t need to pack, but you’d be surprised. Although every hotel will have towels for you to use, not every vacation rental or Airbnb will. Or worse, what if they do have towels, but they’re scratchy or gross-looking?

It’s always smart to pack a small towel on a trip for those just-in-case situations, but they can take up a lot of room. There are a lot of micro-fiber camping towels you can buy, but I prefer to use a yoga towel like the LEUS Yoga Towel. They’re basically the same thing, but the designs are way more fun.

Price and where to buy: Available in multiple sizes starting at $16 on Amazon.com.

How the LEUS Yoga Towel Rates:

  • Usefulness: 10/10. There are so many situations this towel will come in handy for. You can use it at the beach, on a picnic, in a yoga class, and, of course, after a swim or shower. And because it doesn’t take up a ton of room, you’ll be glad to make it a permanent fixture of your travel bag.
  • Value: 8/10. For the hand-towel size, $16 is pretty reasonable, but the full-size towel is priced at $40 and that’s a lot to spend on a towel. However, it’s worth it if you do a lot of yoga or plan on traveling with it often.
  • Durability: 9/10. The non-slip material is strong and built to stand up to wear, but if you’re worried about stains, go for one of the darker designs.
  • Cool Factor: 10/10. With some of the most fun photo-realistic designs out there, LEUS towels are also great conversation pieces and will add a splash of color to your Instagram posts.

Final Verdict: With multiple uses, a good yoga towel is a great tool to have on your trip and the ones from LEUS look great and are long-lasting.

More from SmarterTravel

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Jamie Ditaranto is a writer and photographer always looking for her next adventure. Follow her on Twitter @jamieditaranto.

Editor’s Note: Reviews are based on usefulness, portability, durability, value, and “cool factor.” Some review products are sent to us free of charge and with no incentive to offer a favorable review. We offer our unbiased opinions, positive and negative, and will never accept compensation to review a product. If you have any questions or comments concerning our reviews or would like to suggest a product for review, please email us at editor@smartertravel.com.

Categories
Adventure Travel Miscellany Outdoors

Camping in Antarctica

You’ve probably heard about the heroes of Antarctic exploration. Men like Shackleton and Amundsen were some of the first humans to explore Antarctica on foot, camping on the ice and living for years in below freezing temperatures. Today, it’s mostly scientists who go camping in Antarctica, while tourists spend the majority of their time aboard cruise ships. But on some cruise lines, guests have the chance to spend a night camping in Antarctica.

[st_related]How to Survive in Antarctica After an Airline Loses Your Luggage[/st_related]

On a Hurtigruten expedition cruise to Antarctica, I had the chance to visit the campsite of travelers about to brave the ice on this overnight excursion. The experience is billed as a 10-hour adventure that costs about $575 USD; availability is subject to the number of the tents, and spots fill up quickly. After a mandatory briefing, thirty passengers left the comforts of their cabins on the M.S. Midnatsol and set out for Danco Island.

Their first order of business was to pitch tents and learn the logistics of the Antarctic-style outhouse (the two buckets the crew brings and takes back to the ship). Paired in groups of two, they were given a two-person tent, two sleeping bags, two air mattresses, and a groundsheet. As the campers set up, hundreds of Gentoo penguins hopped ashore and waddled by the tents.

Once everything was ready, the campers hiked up to a nearby penguin rookery that overlooked the bay and watched the ship sail out of view, leaving them alone in the pristine Antarctic landscape. When I asked if it felt like they had been abandoned, one camper, Natalia Rosa told me:

“I felt that I had to make the most of every second of the opportunity and really feel what it was like being there. Much of the time we spent on landings had been occupied with taking photos because we only had an hour and a half on land to capture the moment. That meant you didn’t really put your camera down and smell, see, hear, touch, etc … Being on land for 10 hours meant we had the luxury to really feel what it was like to be there.”

After spending some time watching the penguins in the rookery, the campers returned to their tents to try to sleep. But as they settled in, they found the cold wasn’t the only thing keeping them awake. All around them, they could hear the sounds of distant avalanches and crashing glaciers. And at 2 a.m., the penguin invasion began.

“I rested my eyes, to be rudely but beautifully awoken by the unmistakable flapping and squawking of the penguins. They surrounded us. There were hundreds of them all bounding past in a thick stream,” said Alexandra Pereira, another camper on the excursion. Throughout the night, the penguins would continue to congregate around the campsite, squawking, fighting, and mating outside the tents.

“We’re talking several hundred, if not a thousand penguins. This happened so many times I eventually let myself breathe (I think I had actually been holding my breath so as not to disturb them from coming right past us) and settled back in for some sleep,” said Rosa.

At 5 a.m., the campers awoke and packed up their tents. The ship cruised back into view and inflatable boats set out to pick up the campers. Back on board, they were welcomed back with mimosas in the warm and inviting dining room, where they shared stories of their restless night on the ice.

More from SmarterTravel:

Jamie Ditaranto traveled to Antarctica as a guest of Hurtigruten. Follow her on Instagram @jamieditaranto.

Categories
Adventure Travel Health & Wellness

SteriPen Adventurer Opti Review: Clean Water Anywhere

SteriPen adventurer opti

It’s easy to get clean, safe-to-drink water anytime and anywhere with the SteriPen Adventurer Opti.

SteriPen Adventurer Opti Review

Price and Where to Buy the SteriPen Adventurer Opti: The SteriPen Adventurer Opti is normally $89.95 on Amazon, but was on sale for $62.96 at the time of writing.

How the SteriPen Adventurer Opti Rates:

  • Usefulness: 10/10. Many water purification methods have downsides, whether it’s a chemical taste from drops or the time-consuming mess that pumps can be. Not so with the SteriPen Adventurer Opti, which is easy to use, works quickly, and doesn’t change the taste of the water. It also doubles as an LED flashlight, which saves space in your bag.
  • Value: 9/10. Water purification can be expensive, but this is a great price, especially if you buy it on sale.
  • Portability: 10/10. The SteriPen Adventurer Opti is one of the smallest purifiers on the market, weighing just 3.8 ounces (with batteries). It measures 6.1″ x 1.5 ” x 1″.
  • Durability: 10/10. The pen works by using UV light, and the lamp is good for 8,000 treatments.
  • Cool Factor: 10/10. The SteriPen protects you from diseases like typhoid and dysentery, which is pretty cool.

Final Verdict:

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More from SmarterTravel:

Caroline Morse Teel is always on the hunt for the newest and best travel gear. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter to see what she wears around the world. 

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Editor’s Note: Reviews are based on usefulness, portability, durability, value, and “cool factor.” Some review products are sent to us free of charge and with no incentive to offer a favorable review. We offer our unbiased opinions, positive and negative, and will never accept compensation to review a product. If you have any questions or comments concerning our reviews, or would like to suggest a product for review, please email us at editor@smartertravel.com.

Categories
Adventure Travel Outdoors Weekend Getaways

How to Do a Weekend in the White Mountains, New Hampshire

Nestled on the banks of beautiful Iona Lake in New Hampshire, Huttopia White Mountains has it all—a beach, forest, nearby mountains, and easy access to North Conway or Boston.

How to Do a Weekend in the White Mountains, New Hampshire

White mountains

Hotels:
Huttopia White Mountains, the ultimate glamping destination, opened in 2017. The seasonal property is open from May to October, and offers four levels of accommodations, ranging from basic tents to the Chalets (wood cabins with two bedrooms, a bathroom, and a wood stove). I stayed in a Trapper’s Tent, a large tent that sleeps up to five people. The Trapper’s Tents have two separate sleeping areas (one with a double bed and one with a double bed and lofted single bed), a kitchen, and a real bathroom with a shower.

The campgrounds feature a heated pool, playground, and a private beach. Each campsite is equipped with a picnic table and firepit.

Friday:
After checking in to Huttopia, head directly to the property’s retro Airstream trailer, which is equipped with a real pizza oven, churning out delicious pizzas with every topping imaginable. Pair it with beer or wine from the bar, and relax on the terrace while you dine. Treat yourself to ice cream at the end of the meal before heading back to your tent for the night.

Saturday:
Huttopia is a French-Canadian founded company, and it shows—the Airstream also serves up authentic French crepes, which make for a great breakfast in the morning. Their coffee is sourced from a local roaster, and is miles above and beyond what you’d expect to find at campground—don’t miss out on the espresso!

Once you’re adequately nourished and caffeinated, it’s time to explore the White Mountains. Mount Whiteface and Passaconaway are a short drive down the road. If you’re feeling ambitious, you can tackle both summits in one 11-mile loop.

After, head back to Huttopia to soak your tired muscles in the heated pool.

Cook dinner over your private firepit—if you’ve forgotten your s’mores supplies, Huttopia has a general store with everything you need.

Sunday:
Rent a canoe or SUP from Huttopia’s private beach and head out to explore the pristine lake. If you’re visiting in the fall, it may not be swimming weather, but the foliage around the lake is unbeatable.

Dining:
Huttopia’s Airstream trailer
Hobbs Tavern
Batter Up Bakery

Attractions:
Mount Whiteface
Mount Passaconaway
White Mountain National Forest

More from SmarterTravel:

Caroline was hosted by Huttopia White Mountains. Follow Caroline’s adventures around New England and the world on Instagram @TravelWithCaroline .

Categories
Active Travel Adventure Travel Group Travel

Bhutan for Beginners: A First-Time Trekker Tackles the Famed Druk Path

Bhutan for beginners

When I was a kid, I dropped out of the Girl Scouts for the sole reason that I did not want any part of the camping trips. Cookies, I was on board with. Sleeping in a tent, no running water for days at a time, and exposure to bugs and dirt, not so much. Many years later, I’ve grown to love the outdoors, but in a playing outside all day, sleeping indoors at night kind of way.
So when I had the chance to join Exodus Travels’ Land of the Thunder Dragon Tour, a 12-day journey that would involve five days of trekking Bhutan’s Druk Path, I decided it was time to face my fears. The beauty of the Druk Path is that it is away from cities and towns, so there was no hotel option—it would be four nights of camping or nothing. Could this trekking first-timer survive five straight nights of hiking and four nights in a tent, by herself? I was about to travel over 7,000 miles to find out.

I spent the next few month Googling camping tips and dangerous bugs that live in Bhutan, vacuum packed my sleeping bag into my suitcase, stocked up on hand sanitizer, and got on the plane. The trip started off with a few blissful nights in comfortable hotels in Nepal and Bhutan, and then it was time for our “warm-up hike,” a seven-mile hike to and from the famous Tiger’s Nest Monastery, which is impressively built on the side of a cliff. The views and altitude (and perhaps a lack of hiking training) took my breath away. At the end of that day, I was very glad to return to my hotel for a nice hot shower, and somewhat more nervous for the trek ahead.

[st_related]10 Camping Gear Essentials That Are Easy to Pack[/st_related]

At dinner the night before the start of the hike, our Exodus guide, Norbu, promised us that our experience would be more “glamping” than camping. “Glamping” at 14,000 feet? I was skeptical. Glamping, I had done, and it usually involved hot water and plush bedding. I didn’t anticipate any of that waiting at the top of the mountain. Norbu outlined the hiking for each day, promising us some easier days and some harder days. This was coming from a man who had completed Bhutan’s infamous Snowman Trek, a 29-day hike that’s one of the world’s most difficult. (More people successfully summit Mt. Everest every year than complete the Snowman.) I questioned his definition of “easy.”

The next day, I bid a fearful goodbye to my beautiful hotel bed, took an extra-long hot shower, and headed out into the wilderness.

Our van drove us part way up a long dirt road before abruptly stopping. Goodbye civilization, it was time for the hike to begin. Fortunately, my daypack was light. The rest of my gear, along with the gear of the 15 other people in my group, was being ferried up to camp by a team of 25 horses. We steadily climbed uphill for hours as the dirt road gave way to a lush green forest. Just as I started to get tired, a welcome oasis emerged in the distance—a large tent with a cushioned carpet for relaxing. This was our lunch tent, and I settled in and was greeted with hot coffee and tea, followed by a buffet of local Bhutanese dishes served on real dishes with real silverware.
Bhutan is the only country in the world to be carbon negative, and I was happy to see how eco-friendly and low-impact this Exodus trip was. Exodus lives by the motto: “ban the bottle,” committing to reducing plastic waste on all its trips by encouraging clients to bring their own reusable plastic water bottles, and by providing sanitary drinking water (boiled and then filtered) at every meal and throughout the day to reduce the massive piles of plastic water bottles that tourists contribute to.

After lunch, we had less than two hours of hiking to reach our camp, and I was nervous as we crested the last hill about the conditions we’d find there. But thanks to a team of nine camp staff, “glamping” was indeed what we had on the Druk Path. I arrived to a hiker’s paradise: roomy tents carpeted with woven rugs, topped with plush sleeping mats, and even full-sized, non-inflatable, pillows. Actual pillows at 14,000 feet? That’s luxury.

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Warm water and soap waited at a central hand-washing station, and camp chairs were ready to hold my tired body. I sat in comfort and snacked on hot popcorn drizzled with honey, cakes, and tea while watching the mist roll in over the monastery towering above us.

Energized by the snacks, our group took a short hike from camp up a ridgeline to a spot with panoramic valley views. The sun shone down in beams from the clouds and it felt like the perfect evening. Then it was a quick walk back down to camp where we were rewarded with dinner. Over the course of the next five days it was impressive to see what the trekking team had brought up the trail with them. This included: an entire pumpkin, a roast chicken, a whole watermelon, and ingredients to make a spun sugar cake. I couldn’t have created the gourmet dinners they made in my own kitchen, so I was very impressed they were doing it in the wild. It became a running joke among my group that this would be the only hiking trip you’d actually gain weight from, thanks to all the great food.

At bedtime, we were given hot water bottles to keep cozy, and soon fell into the natural rhythm of sleeping when it was dark and waking with the sun—an incredible reset. Without electricity or cell service, there was no temptation to stay up staring at screens, and I fell asleep easily. There were no honking cars or city noises to wake me up, although I did wake up once or twice to a horse grazing outside my tent—a much more charming way to be awoken.

Waking up to birds singing as the sun rose over our lakeside campsite made me realize what this whole camping thing was about. Aside from our group and the horses grazing lazily in the fields, there wasn’t a soul in sight, just miles of pristine nature. Who needed running water when you had endless views?

Two adorable camp dogs joined our trek on the second day. According to the camp crew, the dogs are given the leftover food, so the same dogs always follow the camp along the hike, as they know they’ll be getting good meals out of it. These were the happiest, most relaxed dogs I’d ever seen—they never begged or barked, just joyfully bounded along the trail beside us every day. If you ever need hiking motivation, I suggest bringing a cute dog along to help you power through.

On our third day, our weather luck ran out and it poured rain all day. We determinedly marched along the trail, arriving at camp hours ahead of schedule, since no one wanted to linger in the cold downpour. There, we were greeted by warm noodle soup and hot chocolate, dry tents all set up, and a heated communal tent to warm up and dry off. Our spirits were instantly lifted. Even in the worst weather, camping isn’t so bad when there’s a space heater and good food involved.

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The trek wound its way from Paro to Thimpu, up along high ridge lines and down past mirror-like lakes. The clouds finally cleared and we suddenly we saw what had been hiding behind the clouds this whole time. The snowy peaks of the Himalayan Mountains sprawled before us, mountains so high that they blended in with the clouds. Bhutan is home to the tallest unclimbed mountains in the world—the Bhutanese believe that the peaks are sacred and so no one is allowed on them. In this world where every last corner seems to have been explored and neatly mapped, it’s wondrous to know that some things that are so majestic and visible remain an untouched mystery.

Along the trail, we never saw any buildings beyond one lone monastery—everything was left as open, preserved land. Environmental conservation is one of Bhutan’s four pillars of Gross National Happiness, and the country’s constitution dictates that a minimum of 60 percent of its land must be preserved under forest cover.

On our last day, we climbed our way up a steep trail and Norbu pointed out a large clearing many miles away. “That’s where we camped our second night. And to the left, that’s the monastery we slept below on the first day.” Our entire trek unfurled behind us. It looked impossibly far away. I was filled with a deep sense of accomplishment that I had traveled so far on my own two feet. And most importantly, I had survived camping all on my own (well, on my own except for the nine crew and 25 horses that helped me along the way). If I’d known camping could be like this, maybe I’d have made it to Girl Scout’s graduation.

More from SmarterTravel:

• The Alchemy of Happiness: Discovering Magic in Bhutan
• Happiness is Bhutan
• The Ultimate Camping Packing List: 29 Essentials

Caroline Morse Teel was hosted by Exodus Travels on their Land of the Thunder Dragon Tour. Follow her on Instagram @TravelWithCaroline to see her photos from the adventure.

Categories
Active Travel Adventure Travel Travel Technology

Garmin inReach Mini Review: Stay Connected Absolutely Anywhere

Being off the grid is great … unless you have an emergency or need to get in touch with someone back home. The Garmin inReach Mini is a tiny and lightweight satellite phone that works anywhere in the world, so you can communicate when you need to.

Garmin inReach Mini Review

Price and Where to Buy the Garmin inReach Mini: The inReach iMini costs $349.99 and is available on Amazon. You’ll need to buy a satellite subscription plan in order to use the phone, and those plans range from $11.95 to $79.95 per month.

How the Garmin inReach Mini Rates:

  • Usefulness: 10/10. I took the inReach Mini on a trekking trip in Bhutan to test it out. There was no cell service, but the inReach Mini connected to the satellite network quickly every time I tried it. I was able to send texts back to a regular cell phone in the U.S. and to check the weather easily, with minimal wait time. Since it uses satellites, all you need for the inReach to work is a clear view of the sky. It won’t work inside a building, but I tested it out inside my tent and had no problems.
  • Value: 8/10. This is a good price for a satellite phone, but I wish the satellite subscription plans were more flexible. The minimum plan you can sign up for is a month long, which seems wasteful for shorter trips. There is also a $24.95 activation fee, which I wasn’t anticipating.
  • Portability: 10/10. This is probably the smallest and lightest satellite phone on the market. It’s more compact than a smartphone (4 x 2 inches) and weighs just 3.5 ounces. You could bring this on a trail run or long backpacking trip without noticing the extra weight. The battery also lasts for up to 50 hours when tracking your location (or up to 20 days in power-saving mode), so you don’t need to worry about bringing along a portable battery for it.
  • Durability: 10/10. The inReach is even more durable than an old-school cell phone. It’s water-resistant against rain, snow, or accidental splashes, and it’s covered in a sturdy rubber that can survive drops and impacts.
  • Cool Factor: 10/10. Being able to stay in touch when you need it is definitely cool.

Final Verdict: If you’ll be adventuring off the grid, the Garmin inReach Mini is the best way to stay as connected as you want, whether that’s only using the emergency SOS feature or texting loved ones back home.

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More from SmarterTravel:

Caroline Morse Teel is always on the hunt for the newest and best travel gear. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter to see what she wears around the world. 

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Editor’s Note: Reviews are based on usefulness, portability, durability, value, and “cool factor.” Some review products are sent to us free of charge and with no incentive to offer a favorable review. We offer our unbiased opinions, positive and negative, and will never accept compensation to review a product. If you have any questions or comments concerning our reviews, or would like to suggest a product for review, please email us at editor@smartertravel.com.

Categories
Adventure Travel Travel Trends Weekend Getaways

Glamping Tips: 8 Questions to Ask Before You Go

So you’re considering going glamping. This means two things: You’re a semi-adventurous traveler who enjoys discovering alternative accommodations, and you still want some of the comforts you’d find at a hotel or vacation rental.

Below are eight important questions to ask before you book your trip, along with practical glamping tips to help you be prepared, manage expectations, save money, and, most importantly, avoid an unexpected bathroom situation.

1. What’s the Bathroom Situation?

This can vary immensely based on the campsite or type of glamping experience. If your glamping vacation is on a campground with RVs and tents, be prepared for a shared bathroom. Read reviews on Glamping Hub or the campsite’s website to determine the quality and cleanliness. Some glamping-only campgrounds have private toilets or outhouses in or outside your tent, but shared showers; others have entirely private bathrooms. Or, you might only have a sink in your space. No matter what the situation, you’re not getting a hotel-level bathroom with indoor plumbing—but it’s all part of the experience.

On a recent glamping trip of my own at a campsite, I had a shared bathroom that was newly renovated. Toiletries, towels, and electricity were available in my carriage house, which was great to know ahead of time because I knew I could bring a hair dryer, and didn’t waste space on packing things like towels and shampoo. I also brought shower shoes, which is the one glamping tip I tell everybody. It would have been nice to have an area to brush my teeth where I was sleeping, but the shared bathroom had conveniently located private showers and toilets.

2. What Safety/Security Measures Are in Place?

Find out ahead of time how your glamping structure is locked or secured, if the campsite itself is enclosed, or if there is monitored security. If you’re worried about potential theft, leave valuables and electronics at home.

This also includes familiarizing yourself with fire safety ahead of time if you’re planning on using a fire pit.

3. Is There Electricity, Wi-Fi, and/or Cell Service?

If you’re expecting these comforts, ask. Many remote locations won’t have a mobile signal, so if you need to connect, verify whether there’s on-site Wi-Fi or nearby areas with cell phone coverage.

Along with electricity, ask if there is air-conditioning and/or heating, depending on the time of year you’re traveling.

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4. What Should I Bring, What’s Already There?

You might be surprised at the amenities provided for glamping sites. As I mentioned, I had towels, a flashlight, trash bags, blankets, and toiletries, and I could even purchase things like firewood and alcohol on-site. Research what’s offered for your trip and ask if there’s a general store nearby to purchase items that you might not want (or forgot) to pack. Some things that I forgot to pack that I wish I had on my glamping trip included a lighter, portable speaker, hand sanitizer, Wi-Fi hotspot, and reusable bags.

Read SmarterTravel’s essential camping packing list for an idea of what you might want for a glamping trip, as this differs from what you would pack for a standard hotel stay.

5. Is There Housekeeping?

If you’re expecting your bed made and trash taken out for you each night, then ask if these amenities are offered. During my glamping experience, housekeeping tidied my room every two to three nights and collected trash every morning. This was an added bonus to our multi-day stay, but this glamping amenity definitely varies.

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6. Are Pets or Other Animals Allowed?

If you’re looking to bring a pet with you to your glamping experience, make sure animals are allowed and there’s an area for them to relieve themselves. If you’re not an animal person, find out whether you can expect to see other people’s pets at the site, and if there’s on- or off-leash policy.

7. Is There a Reception Area?

If you’re looking for recommendations or a contact at your glamping site, check if there’s a front desk or concierge, and verify the check-in process and time. This is especially important if you are arriving at an odd hour, need assistance, or have any special requests.

8. What Are the Tent/Structure Materials?

Find out whether you’ll be sleeping in a canvas tent, a treehouse, or a sturdy wood cabin. Glamping is a broad term that covers a variety of accommodations, and you have no control over Mother Nature. Ask what you’ll be sleeping under and if you’ll be on a raised platform in case of inclement weather—and then pack accordingly.

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Budget Travel Outdoors Travel Trends

Glamping in Maine: What This Travel Trend Is Really Like

When I told my boyfriend that I wanted to go glamping I got a blank stare, followed by a few questions on what in the world “glamping” means. My reply was that it’s “a more glamorous way to camp.” While I’d never done it before, I pretended I knew exactly what glamping was like—and that it would be fun.

Despite his initial doubts I convinced him to spend two nights with me at Sandy Pines Campground in Kennebunkport, Maine. Pulling up to the entrance, we were greeted by a cute vintage car and campervan that inspired our entire glamping experience.

Sandy Pines is a fully functional campground with simple RV and tent sites in addition to its glamping sites. Before entering the campground, visitors check in at a reception lodge located next to the site’s general store, which sells everything you could possibly need for a few nights in the “wilderness.” Its incredible breakfast sandwiches are worth buying each morning to enjoy on the front porch.

Camping with homemade breakfast sandwiches … I was beginning to get the sense of what this whole glamping thing is about.

Sandy Pines offers a variety of glamping experiences: from the large safari tents that are most commonly associated with the glamping trend to Hideaway Huts—a simple, enclosed A-frame with a bed on a platform and some space for bags. We stayed in the Camp Carriages, which are small rooms on a wheeled platform.

The Camp Carriages at Sandy Pines

This was my idea of camping—relaxing in the woods on the front porch and rain pattering on the roof lulling us to sleep. It didn’t hurt that we were also enclosed in a room with its own air conditioner unit, safe from bugs in a plush, king-sized bed.

My boyfriend quickly found his inner wilderness and built us a fire despite impending rainstorms. While the fire didn’t last too long, we were able to enjoy our freshly steamed lobsters (also picked up from the general store that evening … yup, I could get used to this) by the fire with s’mores. Since we live in the city, this was something totally different than our typical summer weekends.

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And while the Kennebunkport location is great to explore the quaint town, relax on its beaches, and even get on the water (boating, paddleboarding, or kayaking on the nearby marshes are all options here), we found ourselves wanting to stay in this perfect little home for the weekend, doing crossword puzzles and listening to the rain, or soaking up the sun on our mini-porch when the weather cooperated.

Sandy Pines uniquely decorates each hut, tent, and carriage. Each safari tent has a theme, like Blixen’s Oasis, which includes six teardrop-shaped lanterns dangling above, and the tents are fully outfitted with dressers, a dining table, a desk, and outdoor seating.

The Tradewinds Tent

The carriages have less space than the tents, but give you a little more security with walls and a solid roof. Statement lighting and flea market decorations are a theme here, as each carriage is adorned with a gorgeous hanging chandelier. There’s enough space for a desk or small vanity in each one, as well as some extra seating, an outdoor porch, and fire pit area.

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The huts are simpler but still picture-perfect: An A-frame with two angled windows and a platform bed. The hut zips closed and there’s an outdoor area with a fire pit and Adirondack chairs.

Each glamping experience is different, so if you’re booking your own experience, call ahead and ask exactly what is included. Sandy Pines provides electricity, toiletries, towels, extra blankets, a flashlight, and laundry bags (a housekeeper comes around every morning to collect trash and towels, which was very helpful). But you would definitely want to bring any supplies your glamping experience doesn’t include.

The Hideaway Huts

Almost immediately after I posted some photos on Instagram, I had about 10 messages from friends and family asking me where I was and how they could go glamping.

So while you won’t have a TV and will be sharing a campground bathroom (a very nice one at that), this luxurious, yet affordable camping experience might just be the perfect choice for your next weekend getaway.

To book your glamping experience, head to Sandy Pines Campground’s website. Reservations for 2019 bookings start October 15.

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Ashley traveled to Kennebunkport, Maine courtesy of Sandy Pines Campground. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram for travel tips, destination ideas, and off the beaten path spots.

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