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Hiking torres del paine 5

Hiking Torres Del Paine: What to Know Before You Go

There’s something undeniably special about long multi-day treks through nature. They revitalize our souls in a way few things can. They offer us a different way of understanding a place, moving slowly, really taking a scene in with all of your senses.

I personally have hiked mountains in Ethiopia, and thru-hiked the Wonderland Trail around Mt. Rainier. I’ve hiked the length of small islands and the coast of Portugal. Each of these places left an impression on me that I wouldn’t have gotten through the glass of a car window. It’s no wonder I was called to Torres Del Paine National Park deep in the heart of Patagonia-often deemed the best place to hike in the world.

I chose to hike the Torres del Paine full circuit with the great outift over at Erratic Rock. While guides are not required for any of the treks in Torres Del Paine, and, yeah, I could have handled this trek on my own, going with a guide turned out to be an excellent decision. In retrospect, it made the whole experience more enjoyable overall (much more on that below!).

What to Know Before Hiking Torres del Paine:

Unpredictable Weather:

Want to be laughed at in Patagonia? Ask a local what the weather is going to be like for the next week. The term “four seasons in a day” doesn’t even seem to do this place justice. During the trek we experienced everything from beautiful 80 degree sunshine to driving sideways rain, 85 mph (you read that right) winds to a white out blizzard. Oftentimes it was as if the rain and the wind were at war with each other; just after the rain soaks everything in it’s path, a strong gust of wind out of Antarctica blows through drying everything within reach.

Crazy weather and wind on the trail

Crazy weather and wind on the trail

The crazy weather made it an authentic Patagonian experience. It’s also why going with a knowledgeable guide proved to be truly important when it came to our itinerary. The night before setting off, he adjusted our starting point to ensure we would go over the John Gardner Pass on a good day (avoiding the snow and sleet storm that seemed imminent in the coming week). As a result we had a wonderful day with spectacular views of Glaciar Grey from the the top of the pass.  Going over the pass with visibility for miles in every direction made comprehending the sheer size of the Southern Patagonian Ice Field a possibility.

Top of John Gardner Pass

Top of John Gardner Pass

Gear Necessities:

The Torres del Paine trek, more than any I’ve ever done before, required the right kind of gear for the trail. Many of the campsites provided little protection from the elements, and it wasn’t out of the ordinary to see someone’s tent take flight with the caracara birds in the area. The high quality four-season tents provided by Erratic Rock kept me warm on nights when the temperature dropped well below freezing. More importantly, the tent stayed stationary when the strong winds fought to carry them along.

Hiking torres del paine 2 Tough tents were not the only necessity, though. “I always thought trekking poles were for the senior citizens going for slow walks next to the beach,” thought Nick, one of six in my hiking group. It’s fair to say his opinion had changed thoroughly by the end of our circuit. With a full pack on your back, trekking poles support your knee and hip joints on the steep declines throughout the hike. More importantly, they acted as stability when we found ourselves on the narrow trails on the sides of mountains and the aforementioned wind gusts did their best to try and knock us off our feet.

Quick-drying base layers, waterproof outer gear, warm layers for the cold nights, dry bags for your electronics, and the low-tech but extremely effective trash bag around your sleeping bag and dry clothes inside your pack are all highly recommended as well!

Crowd Control:

One of the many advantages to doing the full circuit instead of just the extremely popular W trek is that the crowds on the backside of the park were much more manageable. As soon as we hit the W portion of the trek, the number of people fighting for trail space, tent space, and cooking space was much greater. At present, there is no limit to the number of people that can trek each day, and it’s understandable that people are coming from all around the world for the special experience here.

Hiking above Glaciar Gray

Hiking above Glaciar Gray

Again, here is where going with a guide proved to be well worth it. There were days where we spent more time exploring, and there were days when we hustled to make camp earlier in the day. After witnessing about 100 people sleeping head-to-toe on the cooking area floor because there was no room for their tents, the hustle to the Campamento Los Cuernos completely made sense.

While the crowds were a hassle in camp, on the trail most people were very courteous and friendly, realizing and respecting that everyone was there for the wonderful experience with nature.

Science Class:

Trekking in Torres Del Paine felt like my high school Earth Science class had come to life. Martian-shaped lenticular clouds that would have been at home in the sky of a Dali painting floated overhead. Weather systems traced mountain ranges and changed so quickly it was like watching a movie in fast-forward. The sheer size of Glaciar Gray suddenly made it easy to understand how glacial erosion works. The towers made of granite remain where the overlying sedimentary rock layer has been completely eroded away.

torresdelpainetowers

Torres del paine towers

I peppered Koen, our wonderful guide, with question after question about how this amazing place at the end of the world had been formed. He patiently answered all of my questions, and suddenly all those Science classes of my past became extremely relevant and equally fascinating.

We also talked extensively about how the massive glaciers were receding. Tree lines on La Isla reveal just how far Glaciar Gray has receded in only about five years’ time. It’s one thing to think about the theory of climate change and another entirely to see it personally. Despite already knowing the overwhelming importance of its effects and the pressures to reduce them, seeing such jolting evidence in real time left an impression I will never forget.

Trekking Torres Del Paine 6

With all it has to offer, Patagonia always held an air of fascination for me, and this is one of those trips that truly outpaced all expectations I had. A big thanks to Erratic Rock for organizing this wonderful excursion – one I hope to revisit before long.

 

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Tacy Yoga on the Beach

How to Stay Healthy while Traveling

Tacy Nielson is a Yoga Instructor and Reiki healer who is passionate about holistic healing, traveling and living life to the fullest. She was born and raised in Minnesota and is now enjoying life in sunny San Diego. Read more from Tacy here.

While there are so many benefits to traveling, one of the less positive aspects can be difficulty in maintaining a healthy routine. It takes extra awareness and planning that isn’t always feasible on the road. For example, my husband Ryan and I recently did some traveling. We first drove from Minnesota to the tip of Baja Sur, Mexico where we stayed for a month. After arriving back in San Diego we then went on a two-week road trip through some of the western United States. Over the course of the trip, we hit Zion, Bryce Canyon, Arches and Redwood National Parks! We also did some hiking in Portland, OR at Multnomah Falls, which was beautiful. To finish out the trip we drove down the west coast starting in Cannon Falls, OR and ending back in San Diego, CA.

Before leaving Minnesota, I made a commitment to myself to keep up with my healthy routines while on our trips and I’m happy to say that I found it was easier than I thought. Some of my tips relate specifically to road trips but you can apply them to any kind of travel and make them work for you!

Healthy snacks (and chocolate of course!)

First off, I knew we were going to be spending tons of time in the car… and I mean TONS of time! Let me start by telling you that I LOVE junk food in any and all varieties. Knowing this about myself, I took precautions before we headed out for two weeks of junk food temptations.

National Park Tacy
My first precaution was to pack some kind of nuts, my favorite being almonds. (I love the Less Salt Almonds from Trader Joe’s.) I also packed a trail mix. I choose one with mostly dried fruits and less fatty nuts like almonds or pecans. My go to pick is again from Trader Joe’s, the Omega Trek Mix with Fortified Cranberries. If you are a chocolate freak like me, maybe pick one with a chocolate covered fruit or nut, but try to steer clear of M&M-filled mixes because, sadly, that’s really just candy. I love the Trader Joe’s Happy Trekking Mix.

But because I know I will need to have some chocolate throughout the drive, I packed a dark chocolate bar and carefully rationed it out little by little so I didn’t run out! Sometimes I even shared it with Ryan, if I was feeling generous. Other great options are clementines, bananas, apples or rice cakes with PB, and of course I fill up my biggest water bottle to stay hydrated.

In terms of beverages, I do my best to stick with water and refill my bottle from the fountain machines at gas stations. If you need a hit of something other than water, you can go for something like a Naked Juice. My personal favorite is the Acai Machine. It’s true that these juices have a lot of sugar in them, but it is all natural coming from the fruit and is free of added sweeteners.

If you need more of a pick-me-up, there are a lot of good Kombuchas on shelves right now too, but again you’ll want to check that sugar content. Of course coffee is always an option, and I’d recommend going for it as black as you can take it to avoid the sugar-filled creamers.

If you are not a planner and packing food isn’t your thing, then I have a couple tips for sorting through the gas station and convenience stores that will be unavoidable on a road trip. Most of these have fresh fruit like apples or bananas, which are always great options. Granola bars can come in handy as long as you take a couple minutes to make sure you are picking one with low sugar and real, natural ingredients. One of my favorites is KIND bars. They have a lot of flavor options without a ton of added sugar. You probably could have guessed that I go for the chocolate dipped ones! My personal pick is the Dark Chocolate Nuts and Sea Salt. It has 200 calories, 7g of Fiber, 6g of protein (to keep you nice and full) and only 5g sugar. You can always grab some trail mix or nuts here too!

When it comes to restaurants I don’t have many restrictions or rules. After all, you are on vacation, right? I do my best to eat as I normally would and allow myself to splurge on fun new foods or a delicious dessert. Really it isn’t a vacation until you checked out the local ice cream shop anyway! Balance is key, people!

Workin’ on my fitness… yes, even on vacay

As a yogi, I do not travel for any length of time without my yoga mat. It’s a little bit like a security blanket. A yoga mat is especially convenient because it’s pretty small and can be shoved into an already packed car or even carried on if you are flying somewhere. Plus, yoga can also be done almost anywhere: In a hotel room, on a hotel balcony, on the ground next to your tent, in the courtyard of your hotel, the gym at your hotel or even on the beach (my personal favorite!). If you don’t have a clue what to do outside of your yoga class there are some great websites with varying lengths of free classes! A really great one, for example, is doyogawithme.com.

Tacy NP
If you’re not a yogi and have other workouts you enjoy, it can be just as easy to keep those up too! You can go for a run around your hotel or campsite or rent a bike and cruise around the city. My favorite trips and cities have been the ones I have explored on foot or by bike. Get your traveling partner(s) to come with you and make it part of the trip by taking walks on the beach, going surfing, taking a walk after dinner (before you find that ice cream parlor), swimming in the hotel pool or hitting up the hotel gym. There are so many options!

You can also incorporate your exercise into your outdoor surroundings. If you are on an already active trip like ours, where we were hiking almost every day, let that be your exercise and call it a day. Or if you did bring your mat, get on it at the end of the day and stretch out those sore legs. In my opinion, the best type of exercise while on a road trip is definitely car dancing. Crank the tunes and bust a move!

Stay Healthy Traveling 

Keeping up my fitness routine means that I will have a more relaxed and enjoyable vacation overall. Road trips in particular can make you feel stiff and tired, so getting some exercise in each day will keep you grounded, calm and boost your mood. Even if you feel like you don’t have time and your trip is keeping you crazy busy, try getting up just 20 minutes earlier to get whatever movement in you can. You will thank yourself later and I promise it will be well worth the lost snooze.

Better yet, when you get home from your trip you won’t have that readjustment period to get yourself back into those healthy routines you follow in your everyday life. Since you’ve been doing them all along you can just keep on going! No guilt and no vacation weight means you can fully enjoy your trip and feel great about yourself when you get home! Give these a try and I promise your next vacation will be your best.

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Romantic Sunset

Five Oddly Romantic Getaways in the U.S.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m pretty far from a hopeless romantic. I’m more of what you might consider a closet romantic. As in, I don’t dream of over-the-top proposals but I can certainly still appreciate a strong showing of adoration. I just appreciate it a little more quietly than some (I won’t name names).

Chocolate Heart

Image courtesy of lenguavempace

So, as a closet romantic, Valentine’s Day doesn’t do much for me. I find it to be a bit too forced, a little too well-rehearsed, and I much prefer unexpected displays of affection or small surprises. Don’t get me wrong, I love chocolate in any shape, form, or pile and I mean no disrespect if you disagree, it’s just my love language. Though ultimately, like chocolate, I love love however anyone chooses to express it.

To better support that notion and the spirit of the holiday, I put together a little list of offbeat romantic getaways that may – if you’re anything like me – make your celebration a little more memorable. Because your love is unique, here are a few equally extraordinary ways to celebrate it!

Five Oddly Romantic Getaways in the U.S.

Treehouse Point, Washington
Just half an hour outside of Seattle, Treehouse Point is a cozy resort composed of six tree houses available for rent. The elevated cabins, the first of which was modeled using lines from the Parthenon, have been built into the old-growth forest famous in the Pacific Northwest. If your inner child still dreams of more mature tree houses, this is the place for you.

Hicksville, California
Don’t let the name fool you – this place is far from trashy. The Trailer Palace, as it’s affectionately called, lives in Joshua Tree, California, a desert oasis perfect for long, quiet, star-gazing sessions. Complete with more than 10 kitschy trailers, an archery range, a saltwater pool and mini-golf, Hicksville has the perfect combination of isolation and entertainment.

Joshua Tree National Park

Image Courtesy of Bootsnall

Tipi Village Retreat, Oregon
Maybe four walls are a few too many for you. In that case you may want to try your love-luck on a tipi at the Tipi Village Retreat near Eugene, Oregon. Set in a secluded woodland, the tipis come comfortably decorated with stone floors and wool blankets while breakfast options include an assortment of organic eggs, smoked salmon, or fresh fruit and granola. This place is a feast for the eyes and the tummy!

Glacier Under Canvas, Montana
You may have noticed a National Park theme. (It is the service’s 100-year anniversary, after all!) Glacier Under Canvas is exactly as magical as it sounds: you sleep just outside (seven miles) Glacier National Park in luxurious safari-style canvas tents. The great outdoor activities nearby are as endless (and some are offered through the resort) as the breath-taking scenes you’ll encounter on this getaway.

Glacier National Park

Image Courtesy of New World Encyclopedia

Dunton Hot Springs Hotel, Colorado
If you prefer your wood log-cabin stacked and ground-level, Dunton Hot Springs Hotel is yet another ideal destination. A restored ghost town, the hand-built cabins of the resort string together a luxury lifestyle and remote relaxation. You’ll find wifi among a waterfall (but no cell service) and a hot spring surrounded by snow. Bonus: all meals – and a chapel – are included in the price of your stay.

We hope you’ll enjoy these dreamy destinations as much as we do, and we wish you and yours a Happy Valentine’s Day nonetheless!

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Rota Vicentina, Portugal

Hike Portugal on The Rota Vicentina

It goes without saying that the European continent has a lot to offer a traveler. Portugal, in particular, though one of the smaller countries, has a vast array of tourist attractions. Sometimes lovingly labeled as the California of Europe, the west coast similarities can be striking. Lisbon, for example, is built on hills and touts a big red bridge, much like the famous Golden Gate of San Francisco. Meanwhile the surrounding beaches, and the people who flock to them, are as colorful as they are beautiful.

Portuguese Coast along the Rota Vicentina

Portuguese Coast while hiking along the Rota Vicentina

Hike Portugal

Since one could argue that all cities are alike in some ways, touring rural locales, like by hiking the Rota Vicentina, is an ideal way to explore the country’s true beauty. A relatively new trail, the Rota Vicentina snakes its way along the southwestern coast of Portugal, where you’ll find preserved wildlife and a number of endemic species. It begins about two hours south of Lisbon, near Sines, and, depending on your level of persistence, continues almost all the way to the end of the world, or Cape Sagres as it’s also known.

Included within the Southwest Alentejo and Vicentina Coast Natural Park, it is 350 kilometers, or approximately 217 miles, in total and there are two routes by which you can trek the two-year-old trail. One path, The Fishermen’s Trail, winds its way along the coast, while The Historical Way carves its own path inland. Should indecision strike, you can take comfort in knowing that the paths cross and merge on occasion. This way you can pick and choose as you go, much like a choose-your-own-adventure novel, but with more sand.

A farm on the Rota Vicentina in Portugal

A farm on the Rota Vicentina hike in Portugal

In addition to the natural wonders that sprout along the way, the beauty of this hike lies in its structure. Unlike other week-long treks, the Rota Vicentina trails are split between small villages sprinkled throughout the region. At most, you hike around 25 kilometers (15 miles) per day but even that isn’t entirely necessary. If you can stomach the weight of camping gear, there are also designated camping parks where you can rest your soles – and souls –  along the way.

The towns, which give you a quaint look into the mosaic of Portuguese life, also make the trek more appealing by breaking it up. Because you can find accommodation and nourishment at the mapped locations, you’re not forced to carry as much food, water, or gear as you would on other hikes of this length. The website has helpful recommendations for planners, though it can be pricey, and the trail itself is littered with friendly folks who are otherwise happy to lend a hand.

A town along the Rota Vicentina

Whichever way you decide to go, you will be widely rewarded with breathtaking views, ever-changing landscapes, and long-lasting memories. Ultimately, if you enjoy long, romantic walks on the beach, this trail was made for you. Only a handful of things could make the trip more enjoyable, if not easier.

Hints for Hiking portugal on the Rota Vicentina

A Backpack
In theory, you could go without one, but carts and covered wagons are a lot harder to get across the sand. The upside is that your backpack doesn’t have to be anything heavy duty, just something to get you through the day. Somewhere you can stash your sweatshirt after the morning chill burns off or store small essentials like chapstick and sunscreen.

Water
Ideally you wouldn’t tackle any trek without one. Most trekkers recommend going in spring, but your rebellious spirit leads you here in the heat of summer, you’ll need to hydrate. To be safe, you want two to three liters per person on average, and it’s best to plan ahead since there aren’t any refill stations between the villages. Besides, ocean water can be salty.

Gummies
Seriously. Gummies are great for hiking because they provide quick energy your body can burn, meaning the excess sugar won’t lead to a weight gain at the end of the day. After lunch, when your legs are heavy and you’re feeling sluggish, a few sweets will give your body the push it needs to get going again and power through. Chocolate is also a great option here, as long as you note that it gets messy when it melts.

Hike Portugal A Camera
Even if it’s only your phone, because it’s too beautiful not to show off. If or when you finally return home, pictures will help elevate your reputation as an awesome traveler. The combination of cliffs and sand, farms and lighthouses, land and sea will leave even you wondering if you’ve ever seen anything like it. Bring a camera if only to go back and check.

A Headlamp
A headlamp isn’t as necessary as it is complementary. On some of the longer days, it’s best to get started early. As in before dawn early. A headlamp frees your hands for climbing and catching yourself while still being able to spot the toads that serve as the soundtrack for your stroll. While I know that dark and early doesn’t appeal to everyone, a majestic beach sunrise in front of an island fortress definitely does.

Dawn on the Rota Vicentina

Sunrise on the fortress hiking along the Rota Vicentina

A Towel
You might think towels are bulky, but travel towels come quite compact and the beaches are as frequent as they are irresistible. Since some of them are nude, your towel can take up whatever space you saved for your swimsuit. Don’t worry about keeping your secret safe, the locals will get rowdy if anyone stops for a photo opp. So, go ahead, do as the Romans did.

A Knife
For lunch, après-lunch, and maybe even supper. Some of the best local hiking eats include meats and cheeses. Cured meat enthusiasts in particular will find themselves in chorizo heaven on this hike. With a new selection to choose from every day in town, you’ll always have something to open and your picnic will look indescribably more appealing if you bring a small knife to slice and dice.

BodyGlide
“What’s that,” you ask? Oh, just your saving grace. Bodyglide is essentially a personal lubricant, but not the kind that may come to mind. It comes in the shape of a deodorant stick, and, when applied to the body, can reduce friction and chaffing in areas that tend to rub. Even if you sport a thigh gap, I highly recommend it for your feet, chest, or any place your pack may wear. It beats a blister any day.

Ahoy Hostel Porto Covo

Outside Ahoy Hostel in Porto Covo

A Book
Mostly for entertainment. While most hostels have wifi, some of the places you’ll stay will not be all that modern, especially if you camp. A book is always good company on the beach, and if you bring a writing utensil it doubles as a place to take notes. You can jot down the places you loved and the people you met, or write yourself a reminder to review Ahoy Hostel and thank Nick for all his help.

Vinho Verde
Okay, so maybe don’t bring the Vinho Verde in your backpack, but definitely get it at one of your stops. Although the literal translations would call it a green wine, it’s not a thing of Dr. Seuss stories. Instead it’s white, slightly effervescent, inexpensive, and it pairs well with your well-deserved dessert. Sort of like a sparkly Moscato that’s as sweet and refreshing as your adventure.

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Cat Napping

The Three Best Travel Pillows to Try Before Your Next Trip

It goes without saying that traveling is exceptionally fun, but sometimes it can also be a real pain in the neck… especially if you don’t have the right travel pillow! Travel pillows are one of the smallest luxuries that can make the biggest difference on any trip you take – whether it’s by plane, train or automobile. Having somewhere to rest your weary head can mean arriving fresh and somewhat rested instead of groggy and jet-lagged.

Unfortunately, wading through the wide array of travel pillows available, on top of everything else you have to check off before take-off, can take more time than it might seem to be worth. In an effort to help put your tense muscles at ease, we put together a little list that should help alleviate your travel pillow blues and hopefully give you the greatest sleep you’ve had away from home!

Here’s what we found to be the three best travel pillows:

The Travelrest

The Travelrest was made specifically for cuddle bugs. If you’re having separation anxiety from your body pillow and looking for a hug away from home, this inflatable pillow may well be the best travel alternative. Its especially unique in its ability to offer full lateral support. This much cushion is a rare find in a travel treat. You have to first inflate it manually, and then you can place it over your shoulder and enjoy the comfort that comes as a cozy embrace from a pillow. For safe-keeping, you can wear it like a messenger bag or tether it to an airplane seat. Or if you’re into the hands-free thing, you can easily loop it over the headrest in a car or vehicle and dream of shouting, “Look, ma, no hands!”

World’s Best Air Soft Microbeads Tube Pillow

If the sensation of sleeping on a beach is more your style, you might prefer this tube variation. The World’s Best Air Soft Microbeads cradle your head in a flexible, squishy softness that is so light it can be piled on top of the heaviest piece of luggage without tipping the scales. It’s also an ideal size for the little nooks and crannies that keep conventional pillows at bay. Rumors are it can make a 16-hour flight feel more like a cat nap. Even better, the tube also doubles as a lumbar support when it’s your turn to take the wheel or fits comfortably under your knees when you’re ready to put your feet up in the hostel bed.

Morph Pillow of the gods

This newbie is named after the Greek god of dreams, Morpheus, and is designed to make you feel like you’re sleeping on the clouds of Mt. Olympus. It’s made from a simple and straightforward memory foam sphere that goes places easily. Wherever you go, you can stuff it against a window or desk, on your shoulder or under your chin. Despite a machine-washable cover, the Morph compresses into a small plastic case that fits into both overstuffed luggage compartments and your carry-on. If space-saving is your priority, the Morph is a gift from the Gods.

Whatever your pillow preferences, traveling is a marvelous adventure that should not only be entertaining, but comfortable as well! Taking time to satisfy your travel needs and invest in the right pillow will at least give your more time to dream comfortably about your next destination!

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