“Blinkin! They’ve taken the castle!”

“I thought it felt a bit draughty.”

I couldn’t help a Mel Brooks reference.  So while you’re out galavanting around the world, what’s happening with your castle?   Hopefully this:

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I just love this

If you like and trust your neighbours, you can let them know that you’re heading out for a bit or have someone house sit.  That’s a great option if you have pets or a lot of plants.  Just as a side note: make sure the person taking care of your plants isn’t me because I can kill just about anything green.

If you’re out and about in the winter, it may be worthwhile having someone come by to clear your driveway and walkways.  Freshly fallen snow is beautiful but if you’ve got the only house that has kept that freshly fallen look, it is kind of obvious.

If you spend a lot of time away from home, there are a few things you can do to prevent break-ins or to at least make your home a slightly less appealing target.  Start by increasing the natural surveillance.  That’s just a fancy way of saying “make your home more visible”, especially the access points like windows and doors.  Keep shrubs trimmed so they don’t obscure the doors and windows and if you’re a gardener, plant thorny plants like roses under windows.

Make sure all windows and doors are closed and locked.  Any sliding door or window can be secured with a simple dowel laid in the track.  If you’re worried about the glass being broken out, you can get a clear window film that will reinforce the glass.  The glass will still break but the film holds it together like the windshield of a car.

Strong locks are a good start but your lock is only as strong as the frame it’s attached to so if the frame is flimsy, get some hardware to reinforce it. Keeping curtains and blinds drawn means that outsiders can’t see if your home is a jackpot.  It may not keep them from breaking in, but it may reduce the odds.  If you live in an apartment, talk to property management about increasing the security of your door.  A window facing onto a fire escape is an obvious way to access the apartment so look at what options are available to make it more difficult.  Bars are a great idea but may violate the fire code.

If you have a surveillance system, make sure it’s running and set the footage to be saved for longer than you’ll be gone.  A few years ago that would have sounded crazy but now days you can get really good systems for really good prices.  If you’re in an apartment, there’s nothing stopping you from putting some kind of a camera in your own apartment.  I’d have one facing the door and camouflage it.  If you get a set, heck put those things everywhere.  Just make sure that whatever it’s saving to doesn’t get stolen.  That kind of defeats the purpose.

Keep valuables somewhere other than in the bedroom.  It’s a natural tendency to keep your most precious possessions in your inner sanctum which makes it the obvious target.  And if you keep things in a safe, evaluate how well your safe is hidden and secured.  If it’s just a couple of screws, that can be pried up and dealt with later.

Look into suspending services like internet, phone, and cable.  I mean that’s a lot to pay if you’re gone for weeks.

Unplug as many things as you can.  First, because even when their off a lot of electronics still draw on the power but also to prevent anything being damaged if there’s a power surge.

Have mail and any deliveries suspended.  Nothing says “nobody’s home” like a stack of flyers.  On a related note, either don’t put garbage bins out or get someone to bring them in.  If garbage day was Tuesday and it’s now Saturday and your bins are still at the curb, that’s another big clue that no one is home.  And when you do put your garbage out, break boxes down for high-end items like TV’s.  Walk through a neighbourhood on garbage day, especially after Christmas, and you can find out all kinds of things about what people have in their homes.

If you have an alarm system and it’s monitored, make sure the monitoring company has the information for a key holder that they can contact while you’re away and can check out the place if there is an alarm.  If an alarm does come in, it may be nothing or it may be something but I’m sure you’d rather have someone that’s close by that can check it out and arrange for any repairs that may be needed while you’re away.

Empty out the fridge as much as you can before you leave.  No one likes coming home to slimy produce.

It may seem obvious, but make sure bills are set up for payment before you leave.  And while you’re at it, let your credit card company know you’re going to be travelling so they don’t suspend your card thinking that it’s being fraudulently used.

If you have mouse traps down, pick them up.  Forget to do that once and you will never do it again.  Trust me on this one.

So what things do you do before leaving home?  I’m sure I’ve forgotten or never thought of some great tips.

I just had to throw in a few gratuitous travel pics…

Liebster Award

Untitled 2Imagine my surprise when I saw that I had been nominated for the Liebster Award by Matthew Wakelee.  His recent series of posts about his favourite National Parks certainly bumped a few higher up on my “have to visit” list.

The Liebster Award was created in 2011 to encourage bloggers to discover and promote new and emerging blogs.  So, a huge THANK YOU to Matthew: first for following along and secondly for the nomination.  It’s really appreciated.

If you are nominated to receive this award and if you accept you must write a post following the rules below:

•Post about the award on your blog

•Thank the person who nominated you and link to their blog

•Answer their questions about yourself, feel free to add photos

•Nominate 5 – 10 people with fewer than 1000 followers, inform them via social media

•Write your own set of questions for your nominees

•Feel good about yourself for winning an award and passing it on

My responses to Matthew’s Questions

  1. Why did you start blogging?

I started blogging because I had this crazy idea that folks might want to read about the trips that we have taken and the places that we had found.

2. What is your favorite place you’ve ever visited?

This is a really hard one.  I think if I had to pick a place, it would be Montana.  I’m itching to get back there again.  I’ve spent a lot of time in North Carolina and loved it.  And going to The Bahamas for my brother’s wedding was incredible.

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A spot I will never forget in Montana.

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A stop to hike in the mountains in North Carolina.

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The standard steps in the sand photo in The Bahamas.

3.  What place is atop your bucket list?

Ireland but that one will have to be without the dogs.  I want to take them to Newfoundland just because I’ve never been.

4.  What is your dream job?

Getting paid to blog about travelling with my dogs of course 🙂

5.  What is your favorite book?

River Monsters by Jeremy Wade and Feasting on Asphalt: the River Run by Alton Brown are tied for first.

6.  What are your favorite things to do when you’re not blogging?

I run and hike with the dogs.  And I bake for humans and dogs.

7.  Do you travel with children?

I don’t have kids so that’s an easy one.

My nominees are:

  1.  Tails Around the Ranch
  2. Being Breanna
  3. Nuggets Drooling
  4. Traveling Flea Circus
  5. Marking Our Territory
  6. Handstands Around the World

 

My questions to the above nominees are:

  1. What is the best accidental discovery you’ve ever made?
  2. If money were no object, what would you do?
  3. Mountain or plain?
  4. What is your favourite drink?
  5. What is the mode of transportation that you prefer?
  6. Where is one place you’d that you’d recommend we visit?

 

To my nominees, if you want to participate I can’t wait to read your answers.  If not, it’s all good.

Cheers everyone.

Avoiding the Overlook Hotel

I’ve never seen the movie “The Shining” but even I know about the Overlook Hotel where the movie is set.  So here are my thoughts on staying in hotels with dogs.

On one hand, hotels offer many of the comforts of home.  I mean there’s running water, often a coffee machine and fridge, and even *gasp* TV!  What could possibly go wrong?  Well let me tell you…

I stopped at one motel that was supposedly a dog-friendly two-star.  It was barely a half star and there was a sign right at the front that said dogs weren’t allowed.  Fortunately the man at the front let me stay anyway.  Mostly because he did not seem to care what went on there.  That should have been the first sign of trouble.  This was one of my first road trips and I was exhausted so I didn’t look around before I unpacked and cracked into the bottle.  It was when I was sipping my drink that I actually looked at the room.  It was one of the worst motel rooms I have ever seen.  It was so bad that I called up Hotwire to complain.  Well wouldn’t you know that there were no other dog-friendly hotels or motels close by in anything close to the same price range.  This was one place that I was happy to leave but it did teach me a lot.

And then there’s the whole “pet friendly” label.  After some issues with a couple of hotels, I decided to do a bit of digging and called two major chains: Motel 6 and Red Roof Inn.  Both chains market themselves as being pet friendly but as I learned this past trip, there can be some fine print to go through.

So here’s how it works: each hotel is independently owned and in order to buy into the franchise, the owner has to accept pets at no additional cost but the size and number of pets is up to the owner.  When I asked more about it, the reason usually boils down to minimizing noise and damage caused by the animals.  I half expected it to be because of cleaning which is why there are some rooms specifically for pets or they put you in a smoking room.  But no; the main reason is because people have brought their dogs and the dogs just sit there and bark their heads off thereby irritating every other guest.  Or they leave for hours on end and the dog destroys the room.

The best way to avoid any pet-related drama?  Call before you book. You can’t even trust what’s on Expedia because I have seen quite a few times where there is conflicting information.  My favourite is “pets not allowed” and then you scroll down two lines and read “pets allowed”.  It’s the best way to avoid any surprises.  It took me a loooooooooong time to figure this one out.

Take a few minutes to read the reviews.  It doesn’t matter how nice a place is, people will still complain about it but read on to see if there’s a trend to the complaints.  Are these things that you care about?  If you have no intention on using the pool, don’t let that dissuade you from staying there if everything else sounds good.

While you’re reading the reviews, take a second to look at the area around the hotel.  Is this the kind of place that will have you worried about your car being there in the morning?  Or are there some good places to eat close enough that you won’t have to get back into the car?  Is it far from your route or is it setting you up for getting to your next stop?

My hotel routine is very similar to my camping routine: I go check in, declaring right off the bat that I have three dogs with me.  In most cases I probably could sneak them in but why bother?  I think every hotel has had some clause that they will charge a sizeable amount if you don’t declare your pets.  And since they have your credit card in hand, they could do it easily enough.  They will also have you sign a waiver that you will not leave the dogs alone in the room.  While I’m signing all the documents, I’ll ask the front staff if there are any good restaurants that they recommend that are not chains and preferably deliver.

Once we get our room, I’ll carry as much up to the room in one trip.  This is easy in the case of a motel when I could almost toss everything from the trunk into the room.  I’ve trained the dogs to stay inside when the door is open until I have told them that they can come outside.  Partly for the convenience but also for safety’s sake.  I’ll put a towel down on the floor where it’s tiled and fill up their water bowls so they can have a drink if they want.  As you can see from the photos, my dogs are very good with staying in hotels and will make themselves at home as soon as they walk in the door.

While they have their drinks, I look around the room to see if I’ll be loading the car up again.  One of the first things I do is pull back the sheet on a corner of the mattress that is closest to the wall and shine the light from my phone onto it.  This is the best way to look for bedbugs: they naturally scatter from the light and you’ll see them as little specks.  I have yet to find any in the hotels that I have stayed at.  And yes I do know what they look like so it’s not that I don’t know what to look for.

If it isn’t raining or too late or dark, we go for a walk and check out what’s in the vicinity.  You get a better appreciation for the area when you’re out on foot and it gives them a chance to sniff and stretch.  I don’t take any complicated routes and make sure that I know how to get back to the hotel.

Once we get back from our walk, I’ll pour out their food, then pour me a drink as I hop onto Yelp to find food.  If the front desk staff recommended something, that gets bumped towards the top of the list but I still read reviews before I decide.  If I go with delivery, it’s usually pizza and I’m OK with that since it’ll give me at least two meals and it travels very well.  There has been the odd time that I missed all of the restaurants (Strasborg I’m thinking about you) but that’s when I put my MacGyver skills to the test.

I don’t try to bring my camp stove inside because that would be just stupidly dangerous and by this time, I’m usually too tired to pack the pups up and cook out in the parking lot.  If the room comes with a coffee maker, then you are totally set for all kinds of things from instant oatmeal to ramen noodles.  Just put those in the carafe, add your water, and hit the go button.  If there’s a selection of tea bags you can add something to the basket where the coffee would go for a hint of flavour or drop the entire bag into the carafe for a stronger kick.  This is a lot harder if there’s no carafe but if you have anything that can fit (like the small pot from your stove kit or your stainless steel mug) then you’re in business.  You’ll just have to be careful if you’re using a metal container because it will get hot.  Sometimes I bring a plastic bowl with me and if the room has a microwave, then I’ll use that to prepare food.  With a selection of dried fruits, nuts, and a honey packet or one of those jam portions that always come with toast, you can make really good oatmeal.  Sounds a lot like the camping menu doesn’t it?

In the morning, we’ll go for a walk then when we get back to the room, I’ll pour out breakfast for the dogs as I plot out mine.  I’ll often try for a hotel with a complimentary breakfast because it saves me having to try and find one in the morning.  I mean, I’ll still look but it’s nice to have it as an option.  They often consist of waffles, cereals, yogurt, fruit, and muffins with vats of horrid coffee.  My go-to breakfast at this sort of breakfast offering is to toast up or make a couple of waffles then smear them with a couple of packets of peanut butter, smoosh a banana between them and voila: wafflewich!  If it’s a hotel that I’m eager to leave behind, I’ll have the room packed up and the dogs in the car before I make my wafflewich and go check out.  A quick run to the car and that place will be far behind by the time I’m done eating and looking for a coffee place.   If we are going to have a more leisurely start to our day, I’ll sneak out while the dogs are eating, pile up Mount Plate, then burn back to the room to eat.  I also grab a few extra things for the upcoming day’s travels, like some fruit or a granola bar

It’s when I’m stuffing my face that I usually settle on a route, making the most of the wifi while I can.  I’ll often do a little bit of reading before going to sleep but the real planning is done before we leave.  Then load up the dogs and gear, check out, and as the wifi fades, we head out onto the road.

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I don’t know why Leo always claims the pillow.

Staying in the Great Outdoors

You’ve been driving all day and you found an amazing area that is a perfect place to spend the night.  This is part of why I love freestyle road tripping because you may not have planned to stop at this campground but here it is and here you are and you need to sleep.  I’m going to outline how a camp stop usually works for us.  This is pretty consistent whether it’s a private campground or a state/provincial/national park.

Pick a spot:

You won’t be camping if there aren’t any spots so a stop at the office is the first thing.  If there are people working, you’ll know fairly quickly if there’s a site available.  Don’t be afraid to ask the staff member what spots they recommend.  There are places that may not look great on the map but when you actually get there, it’s pretty sweet.  Even though my dogs aren’t yappy I prefer the quieter places so I tell them right off the bat that’s what I’m after.  I don’t mind walking a bit farther to get places if it means I don’t have the water tap at the front of my site and can hear everyone coming for water at all hours (and the resultant need to pee all the time).

If the office is closed, a lot of campgrounds will have a self-service feature where you pick an available site, set up your camp, then deposit your money in a box with a permit.  I have a love/hate relationship with these.  I love being able to look at a site and see what’s around before settling.  But I hate having to go back to the front of the campground to deposit cash and then back to the site.  It’s not a big deal if the campground is small but if it’s a large campground, you’re back in the car.  If you are going to pick your site, make sure you read the map.  I was at a campground in Kansas and just skimmed over the site map.  As I drove around, I was positive that there had been more sites than the few trailer sites I was looking at.  I saw so many picnic tables and assumed they were all day sites since they didn’t have the permit posts.  Well later on I realized that they were indeed tent sites and I had missed out on primo spots.  Oh well.  We were only there to sleep and it was very quiet any way.

There some things you’ll have to consider:

Proximity to washrooms – do you have little ones that will need to make frequent visits?  Or if you’re like me and you have a bladder the size of a walnut then you’ll want to know how far the washroom is.  There are often pathways that act as shortcuts to the washrooms.  It’s nice to know if there is one that passes through your site so you won’t be surprised if you have a lot of rustling in the bushes.

Electrical hook-ups – these often come at a premium price but it may be worth it if you want to have power.

Playgrounds – If you have kids with you, you’ll likely want to be close and if you don’t then chances are you won’t.

Water taps – having one near your site is convenient but you will have a lot of traffic.  And the sound of running water at all hours.

Laundry/showers – I find that these buildings tend to be louder because they echo more but they usually get less traffic unless they are attached to the washrooms.

When I get to my spot, the first thing I do is let the dogs out of the car and put them on the tie-out.  I fill their bowls with water and lay out a blanket or towel for them before I do anything else.  Usually they sniff around, have a drink, and plop down to watch me.

Most sites have an area that has been used for the tent, and some even have a designated spot.  It’s important to pick up any rocks and debris and then figure out the slope of the site.  I sometimes use the tent sac, laying it out flat and then dribble some water to see which way it flows if the slope is not obvious.  Once that’s done, orient the tent with the highest point where your head will be.  Screw that up once and you’ll never mess it up again.

With the tent up, I first put in my sleeping pad and inflate it, putting it against the back.  Then the dog’s pad goes in and I cover that with the old sheet that I keep in the back seat of the car.  I tuck the sheet under my pad and bring it to the door before folding the excess back over.  It’s just one more layer of comfort for the dogs and protection for the floor.  Then I have to shoo Leo away since this is when he tries to sneak in as I bring my sleeping bag and their blankets inside.

Once the tent is set-up, we go for a walk around the campground.  First thing is to orient ourselves to the washroom and any other amenities available.  We’ll go for a hike if there are trails and time permitting, which gives us all a chance to stretch our legs.  Rarely, very rarely, we find a campground with an off-leash area and I let them run as long as they want to.

Once everyone is good and tired, we head back to our site.  I dish out their kibble and then turn my thoughts to my meal as I have a nip from the Road Trip Bottle (to toast our safe arrival of course).  For some reason I usually have left over pizza so I’ll often eat that by lantern light.  If there are no leftovers, then I set out my stove and will fix something.  This is where I’m thankful for the foodie tendencies that lead me to overpack food.  Most of the time I’ll make a pack of ramen noodles or noodle dish (think Sidekicks) and add some dried mushrooms or chicken or even beef jerky.  I always always always make sure to pick up any spilled kibble and put all the food and dishes back into the trunk of the car.  I NEVER bring any kind of food item into the tent even when we’re not in bear country.  It’s not a good habit to let yourself get into.

Then I will unzip the tent and try to hold back the tide of dogs that want to rush in before I’ve unclipped their leashes.  I leave the clips at the door so that when I wake up, I can unzip the door and clip the leashes while the door to the fly is still closed so they can’t bolt off.

Once I’ve changed into my sleeping clothes, I’ll have to push Piper and Leo both off of my sleeping bag and then try and keep Leo out of my sleeping bag and Piper from squeezing me off my pad.  By this time, Jack will have most of the blankets piled up underneath him as he just watches the spectacle.

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You didn’t want me to move did you?

The dogs are usually asleep before I am but they are quick to wake up if they hear something outside.  I usually sit up for a little bit and jot down any extra notes from the day’s travels or read a bit or plan out the route for the next day.  Not only will I have a lantern in the tent (either the small one from the ceiling or the big one next to me) but I’ll have my headlamp, cellphone, and pocket knife tucked in the pocket next to my head. I don’t keep the knife there so much for defence but in case I have to get out of the tent in a hurry; like if it gets blown over or in the off-chance a bear starts poking around.  Neither of those cases have happened but if I can be prepared, then I will be prepared.

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Tuckered out puppies.  Never mind Leo’s crazy eyes

At home, I will sleep in until the crack of noon but when we’re camping I’m often up before the sun.  I’ll take the dogs for a good long walk once it’s light enough to see where we’re going.  I’ll fill the dogs water bowls and pour out their food before I get my food going.  Breakfast for me is often oatmeal with whatever dried fruit and nuts tickle my fancy.  I’ll often boil a pot of water then use some of that for tea and dump a few pouches of instant oatmeal into what’s left.

Once our whole two dishes are washed, I’ll pack up camp which is the reverse of the set-up.  I usually take them for one last walk after the car is packed up unless it’s a campground that we are in a rush to get out of.  There have been a few that I was happy to see in my rearview that’s for sure.

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Getting comfy as they wait for me to finish.

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Camping on Mars (or Arizona).

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Morning in Arizona.

Think that staying in a hotel is a piece of cake?  My next post will have a few survival tactics that have come in handy and had to be learned the hard way.

Looking to “Ruff” it?

I love to camp.  I love being outside in nature and having the chance to explore the wilderness.  It’s also cheaper than a hotel so financially it helps on cross-country trips.  I’m lucky the dogs like to camp as much, if not more, than I do so I try to spend as many nights camping as possible.  The only times that we stay in a hotel is if the forecast is calling for rain or if the temperature looks like it’s going to drop too much for my delicate little ones.  Wet dogs in a small tent is something that I try to avoid as much as possible as well as frozen pup-sicles.  And there have been a few times when I haven’t been able to find a campground so we hotel by default.

So if camping is in the plan, here is some of the gear that you’ll want to pack.

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The trunk all packed up clockwise from top left: towel, sleeping bag, bins of food, safety kit, sleeping pad, tent and poles, poop bags, bug spray and sunblock, backpack, camping stove and fuel (in the bag), nalgene bottles, gas can, bag with ropes and spare leashes.

Tent:

You need to sleep somewhere.  There are so many options for tents these days that the only limit is your imagination and finances.  Most stores with a sporting section sell some kind of tent and you can get one for cheap if you just want something to use once a year but if you’re looking to use it often or in more rugged areas, I’d suggest going to an actual outdoor store.  I find that the quality is usually better and they often have some set up which means you can climb in and feel it out.  I once spent close to an hour crawling in and out of tents, laying down, and kneeling to see what they were like.  It’s one thing to read the base measurements but when you actually experience the size, you get a whole different sense of it.  If you go with friends it can be really fun (I’m serious about both trying it out and having a tent party in the store).

There are a few things to keep in mind if you’re going out to buy a tent or you have a few to choose from:

The number of people (and dogs) in your party – most tents will say how many people fit in the tent but I would suggest using that only as a guideline since that has everyone squished right next too each other and you may not want to get that close to your travel companions while you sleep.  It also does not account for any gear or other things you would keep in your tent.

The size of the people in your party – if you have someone that is very tall, make sure the tent is long enough to accommodate them with some space on either end to allow for the inevitable shift that always seems to happen overnight and so they are not pressed directly against the tent walls.

Duration in your tent (staying put or moving every day) – If you’ll be setting up your tent as a base of operations for days at a time, you’ll likely want something a bit more roomy than just a place to lay your head every night before packing back up.

Weather – While most tents are good for three seasons, if you’re heading out into the snow, you’ll want a tent that’s a bit more robust.

Ease of set-up – I remember the tents of my youth being heavy fabric and multi-piece tent poles that you had to assemble before several people had to work together to actually pitch the tent.  Most tents that I have seen lately have shock cord poles that snap together and allow a tent to be set up in no time.  I have seen some tents that only require you to throw them out and stake them down.  I’m a big believer in the less complicated the better.

Packed size/weight – if you’re just moving the tent in your car, there’s more leeway was far as size but if you’re heading into the back country, you’ll want the smallest and lightest tent you can find.  If you’ll be sharing with other people, you can divide the various components between you to share the load.

I have the Wanderer 2 from Mountain Equipment Co-op.  This is a two-person tent that has enough room for me and the three dogs with a little bit of extra space for my pack.  There are pockets on either side of both doors, a loop in the roof for a lantern, and loops to attach an extra storage sling.  The fly forms two vestibules over the doors which allows for extra storage.  Some tents have a footprint that acts as a base layer, adding an extra level of insulation and protection from the ground.  I usually use the footprint which provides a sort of floor in one vestibule which helps to reduce some of the dirt that the dogs track in.  I’ve had this tent for about six years and it still looks like new.  One of the best things about it is how easy it is to pitch by myself since the dogs aren’t very helpful.

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Our site in Blue Mound State Park in Minnesota.

Sleeping bag/pads:

I recommend getting a sleeping bag that is rated for lower temperatures than you think you’ll encounter.  You can always unzip and hang parts of your body out but when you’re putting every article of clothing on just so you can sleep, it makes for a very unpleasant night.

Sleeping bag styles are highly personal and there are a lot of options out there.  I have several sleeping bags but my go-to is a synthetic down mummy bag.  The dogs don’t like this one so much because it doesn’t allow a lot of space for snuggling.  When we’re staying in an area that’s going to be warm for the duration of the trip, I have a larger rectangular sleeping bag.  Because it is bigger, I usually have at least one dog sharing the space with me which makes it even warmer.

I have an inflatable sleeping pad that I use for me and a foam sleeping pad that I put down for the dogs, mostly for their comfort but also to protect the floor of the tent from sharp nails.

Stove:

Stoves, like tents, can be as simple or as complicated as you like.  I only have one stove since I’ve only ever had to feed myself.  It is by a company called Trangia and what I like about it is how simple and compact it is.  The entire unit packs small and there are no parts that I have to worry about breaking.  It uses methylated spirits as fuel which is cheap and can be found anywhere.  All you do is pour some fuel into the fuel cup and light that.  A simmering ring fits on top of the cup that controls the temperature.  It’s quiet and foolproof.  And I can eat directly out of the cooking pot so there’s less dishes to do.  It’s a win-win situation.

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Breakfast in Minnesota.  We had to use bottled water because the camp’s water was not drinkable when we were there.

Utensils and dishes:

If you’re going to be cooking, you’re going to need things to manipulate your food in the pot and get your food into your face hole.  I have a set of camping utensils that are light weight and have a clip to keep them together but I usually only break those out if I’m going in the back country when weight is a serious consideration.  I usually just grab a fork, spoon, and paring knife that I don’t mind if I lose or damage and put them in one of the food bins.  And I pack a folding spatula for cooking.

If you’re cooking for multiple people, you’re obviously going to want to bring at least one plate for everyone.  You can get deep plates that will do double duty as bowls as well.  I know that camping instantly brings up thoughts of metal dishes but if you have young ones with you, you may want to avoid metal as little fingers tend to forget about hot surfaces.

I would suggest packing one plate, one fork, one spoon, and one cup per person.  A bowl if you’ve planned for soup or cereal unless you’ve got the deep plate.  As far as knives, you can get by with one big knife that everyone uses to cut their food with if you don’t want to pack a knife for everyone.  I also like to pack light in the dish department because it makes clean up a bit easier.  I’ve found that if you bring it, you’re likely to use it.

Since some campgrounds don’t have a washing station, you’ll want to bring a basin of some sort to clean your dishes as well as biodegradable soap and a scrub of some kind.  If there is a designated cleaning area, please make sure you use it as it limits contamination and helps to protect wildlife.  Yes you may have to lug your stuff but imagine if the person who used the site before you dumped their dirty wash water within spitting distance of where you would be camping.  Food particles rot and that rot can smell and that smell can attract animals.  Need I say more?

If you’re in a place with no designated area, perhaps back country or public land, make sure you dump your wash water far from water sources and your tent.  If you’re not sure about proper back country etiquette, there are plenty of sites to do a bit of research.  And if you are, it may be a good refresher at the start of the season.

Hatchet:

Yes it’s good for the obvious chopping of wood but turn it over and you’ve got a hammer for driving tent pegs.  Scrape your wood and you’ve got tinder for your fire.  Heck it’s good in an emergency if you need to smash glass to help someone in an accident or cut branches for a splint which is why I keep my hatchet right at the front of my trunk for ease of access.

Lighter/Matches:

Why chop wood if you’re not going to light a fire?  I don’t usually have fires but there have been a few times when I’m glad I did.  There is something so soothing about sitting in the growing dusk with a fire crackling away.  And if you’re in a place with no cell service, it gives you something to do until bed time.  And you’ll need some source of ignition if you’re using a stove.

Lantern:

When it gets dark out, you’ll want some means to find your way around your site.  Or it can be a surrogate if you don’t start a fire.  There are even little ones that can be hung from the ceiling of a tent.  Lanterns aren’t strictly essential since you can use a flashlight for the same thing (which of course you have packed in the car) but I like being able to plunk it down on a table or in the tent and read or write out the adventures of the day.  And if you have people with you, can you beat it for a game of cards?

Tarps or screened tents:

If you’re going to be stationary for a bit, these are invaluable for covering your area in case of rain that will keep you huddled in your tent.

Other stuff:

A deck of cards is pretty much mandatory if there’s more than one person.  Flip flops for the shower.  Spare toilet paper because…well you never know.

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You didn’t want me to move did you?

Because this post got a bit long, I’ll do my camping routine in a separate post.

Sunshine Blogger Award

So after many days of spotty internet service, I was finally able to catch up and to my shock I learned that I had been nominated for the Sunshine Blogger Award by Diana at Handstands Around the World.  She has got a great blog and some outstanding photos.  Definitely a must read for sure.

The Sunshine Blogger Award is given to bloggers by other bloggers who are creative, positive, and inspiring in the blogosphere.  I am so honoured that people read about our little adventures and then to be nominated for our first blogging award is just awesome.  I’m not going to lie: I had to keep checking to make sure my eyes weren’t deceiving me.  So without further delay:

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Rules of the Sunshine Blogger Award:

•Thank the person who nominated you and link back to their blog

•Answer the eleven questions set by the person who nominated you

•Nominate eleven other blogs and give them eleven questions to answer

•Notify your nominees

•List the rules and display the Sunshine Blogger Award logo in your post

THANK YOU DIANA!!!!

My answers to Diana’s Questions:

  1. What is/are your travel goal(s) for 2017?

To take more time!  I pick places that are far away and then don’t have enough time to do side trips or to explore the place that we drove all that time to get to.

2. What is your favorite holiday and why?

I know it’s not really a holiday but I love Hallowe’en.  When I was a kid it was for the candy (of course) but I love the dressing up part, although I’m a little dismayed at the almost X-rated costumes for women that I see every single year.

3. Most unique travel destination you’ve visited?

I would have to say that The Bahamas was the most different from what I’m used to.  Everything from the land to the “no stress” attitude.

4. What is one off the beaten path location that you recommend for me to visit?

Well now that’s a tough one.  Yoho National Park which abuts Banff National Park was amazing and doesn’t seem to draw the same crowds as Banff.  The Cabot Trail in Nova Scotia is stunning.

5. Share your favorite photo from your travels:

This is one of my favourite photos of the dogs.

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Monument Valley

6. What is your advice for those trying to get into the world of blogging?

Yikes.  I guess to write about what you know and love.  Don’t pretend to be something that you’re not.

7. What is your favorite song?

It changes on my mood but right now “Let’s Get Back” by Matt Anderson is getting a lot of play.

8. Worst travel experience ever?

Basically any time I travelled with my family.  It was always high-stress.

9. What is the strangest thing you’ve ever eaten while traveling?

I had conch in The Bahamas.  Most of the weird stuff that I have eaten, I’ve had at home (chicken feet, sea urchin, tripe) but I want to have gator, rattlesnake, and brain sandwiches.  Hopefully I can do that this year.

10. Where are you from, and what is the most common stereotype or misconception about your home town/state/country?

I’m from Ontario, Canada.  I think that most people I talk to ask about the snow; even places that get snow want to know about how bad it gets back home.

11. So…what is one important lesson you’ve learned in your travels?

Be flexible and as a part of that, don’t look at things that happen as a negative.  It’s all part of the trip.

My Nominees:

  1. tandemtrekking
  2. petitelouloueverydayadventures
  3. leggypeggy
  4. brianandlily
  5. Rapetti Review
  6. Tails Around the Ranch
  7. Marking Our Territory
  8. doingbeingbecoming
  9. Nomadic Adventurer
  10. FACE Foundation
  11. Nugget’s Drooling

Questions to my Nominees:

  1. Do you prefer solo (or partner) travel or as part of a group?
  2. What is the one thing you cannot travel without (not including passports and such)?
  3. What is one place that, in your opinion, everyone just HAS to visit at least once?
  4. What was your most memorable meal and why?
  5. What is your preferred method of travel?
  6. Where is a place close to where you live or that you are from that you would recommend people visit?
  7. Have you ever felt regret about a place you went to?
  8. Do you plan out your trips or take a more freestyle approach?
  9. Is there anywhere that you want to revisit?  (where and why)
  10. What has been your biggest breach of travel etiquette?
  11. Do you have a travelling mantra?

Happy People Packing

And now for gear for the human part of the equation.  There are a ton of things that you can bring, but this is the stuff that I bring for road trips.  While it is tempting to pack your entire house in your car, you’ll want to focus on the things you’re most likely to use.

Clothes:

The name of the game is layers.  Even if the weather is fairly consistent, there will still be cold days and warm days or you may end up at the top of a mountain or driving into a storm.  Besides the standard underwear and socks, here are some of my “must have items”:

  • Sports bras – so there’s no need to worry about straps or underwires and they can pass as a swimming top if the need arises.
  • Pants – I love convertible cargo pants because they go from pants to shorts with a simple zipper and the side pockets are roomy enough that I can carry all kinds of stuff.  Most of the pockets close with velcro or zippers for added security.  I also bring capris with cargo pockets (sensing a theme here?).  They can be rolled up or left down depending on the temperature or the terrain if we’re hiking.
  • Shirts – a selection of T-shirts and tank tops.  I’m not a big fan of long-sleeved shirts and usually end up with the sleeves pushed up so I don’t bother bringing any.
  • Jackets – I have a waterproof shell with a hood, a long-sleeved merino wool zip-up (soooo warm), and a zip-up hoody.  If it were to get really cold, I can put the merino wool zip-up on, then the hoody, and lastly my shell.  That configuration is almost as warm as a winter coat and gives me tons of options depending on the weather.  I don’t pack these and leave them draped over the front passenger seat so I have easy access and can leave them on top of anything in the front that I want to leave covered.
  • Hat – I rarely leave my house without a cap on.  It’s great for shading my eyes from the sun and helping to keep rain out of my face.
  • Sleeping clothes – If there’s the chance that we’ll be camping, I’ll bring warm clothes to sleep in.  If I get overheated, I can always kick out of the sleeping bag but few things are as uncomfortable as being cold in a tent.
  • Bathing suit – optional unless you plan on swimming in public.  In more secluded areas, just undies are often sufficient for a quick cool down.  Then you can toss them in the trunk to dry if need be.
  • Shoes/sandals: I wear my shoes for the most part but keep sandals handy, especially for wet weather.  And if you’re travelling in the winter, you’ll want at least one pair of boots, possibly a second depending on what you’re doing.

Documents:

You aren’t going to get far without them.  Obviously a driver’s license is a must and a passport or enhanced driver’s license if you’re crossing the border.  If you have traveler’s insurance make sure you bring any paperwork for that.  And since people like to get paid, credit and debit cards are a must.  It’s good to have cash as well but I like having that plastic in case of emergencies and it reduces the amount of cash I have to carry.

Make sure you’ve got copies of every document you have and the numbers to call if any of them get lost or are stolen.  Yes if you call Visa they will have your account number, but if you want to report your stuff lost to the local police, having the information handy means that it gets input into their system that much faster.  Which means that if someone tries to use your card, whether they stole it or found it, it can act as an additional safeguard to you losing your money and increases the chances of the person being caught.

Another document that you may want to consider drawing up is one that is totally up to you.  If you or members of your travelling party have any kind of medical issues, are on prescriptions, or even have certain fears or phobias, it may be handy to write all those up for each person to carry in their own pocket.  It doesn’t have to be in depth but in a worst case scenario where everyone is incapacitated, it can help to have that information available for first responders and later for the hospital.  And if you have a Medic-Alert bracelet or necklace, I’m assuming you would be wearing it.

Why would I suggest making note of fears or phobias?  Because first responders are typically very good at dealing with people in crisis and if they know that there’s something else going on besides just dealing with the stress of a crash, they will often take steps to help minimize the trauma as long as it doesn’t interfere with life-saving measures.

Or if for whatever reason a person is non-verbal or deaf, the first responders can stop shouting at them and try to find other means of communication.  Think about what you would want people to know if they had to deal with all of your travelling companions or what you would want them to know if you were unable to communicate.

It’s also a good idea to carry next of kin or emergency contact information and list someone that is not travelling with you.  I know it’s not the sort of thing that people want to think about but there are so many crashes every single day and while most of them are minor, there’s always that chance that one won’t be.  I wear a bracelet from a company called Road ID that has my name and my emergency contact infromation.  I bought it for running since I’m often gone for long periods and don’t want to bring my wallet but I also wear it for road trips.  A “just in case” step for me.

Medications:

If you have prescriptions, make sure you bring them in the original packaging.  That way there is no doubt about what meds you’re bringing with you.  Or if there’s a medical emergency, first responders will know exactly what you are taking and the correct dosage.

Food:

Snacks are definitely a necessity.  They can help keep you from gorging on the aisles of stuff at the many gas stations and are a great way to help keep you alert and your mind occupied.  It doesn’t have to be anything complicated: some trail mix or veggies will do the trick.  Or if you’re lucky enough to pass by some farmer’s stands, well does it get any better than that?

I usually end up packing some bins with an assortment of foods that I hardly end up touching because I usually find food to eat on the road.  But when I do find myself far from restaurants, I’m grateful for the food I brought.  Here are some of the things I make sure I have:

  • instant pancake mix
  • instant rice
  • ramen noodles
  • dried fruits and berries
  • nuts
  • dehydrated chicken
  • beef jerky
  • dried mushrooms
  • instant noodle packages
  • potato flakes
  • skim milk powder
  • pouches of instant oatmeal
  • peanut butter
  • coconut oil
  • tea bags and instant coffee
  • salt/pepper/spices (cayenne pepper, cinnamon, chili powder, garlic powder)

It may sound like a lot, but what I do is remove most of it from the packaging and put everything into zip top bags.  Then I write out preparation instructions onto a piece of tape and put that on the side of the bag.  Most of the food can be prepared just by adding water and a little milk powder if I want to enrich the flavour.  These come in handy whether I’m eating out of my car, a tent, or a hotel room (yes I’ll get into that later).

I just received a collapsible coffee filter cone so I’ll be able to make coffee on the road next year.  I’m so excited to try it out.

Travel mug/water bottle:

Obviously it helps to reduce waste but having an insulated travel mug will keep your steaming cup of morning joe or tea hot way down the road and keep you steadily caffeinated.  It acts as my primary drinking vessel although I do sometimes bring a steel mug as well.  I have two stainless steel water bottles that I fill every chance I get.  Partly for me but it also acts as emergency back-up water for the dogs if they’re particularly thirsty.

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The only souvenirs I bought for myself from Shenandoah. Great for road hydration.

Packs:

I have my main backpack that I use to carry my stuff.  It’s a 30 L pack so there’s tons of space and it even has a side pouch where I carry the Road Trip Bottle.  That does seem to get me a few stares I think.

I also have a smaller pack that I call my “adventure bag” and I break it out whenever the dogs and I go places.  Until recently it was a shoulder bag from Mountain Equipment Co-op which was really handy because it had a clip so I could take it off and put it on with ease.  That bag had to be re-purposed so now I use a small backpack.  It just has to be big enough to carry a water bottle, at least one collapsible bowl, some snacks, and whatever small items I want to carry.   It’s also handy for bringing the dog stuff to a hotel room.  I’m all about as few trips as possible.

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My weight stack one night in Spokane, Washington. I made it as heavy I could with full water bottles.

Bug Spray/sunblock:

I pretty much keep that handy all summer long and keep it in a ziptop bag to reduce the chances of a leak or puncture.  If you’re travelling in the winter, make sure you keep your sunblock in the passenger compartment to keep it from freezing.

Spare sunglasses:

Don’t leave home without them.

Other things:

Now I’m assuming your phone is basically permanently attached to you so check your data plan.  Will you need to get an additional plan if you’re heading across the border?  Are your talk minutes nationwide?  Don’t forget to check the roaming feature in your settings.  What I usually do is wait until I have my route started on the map and then switch it to airplane mode.  I still have my route on the map but will be in a nice little cocoon from the rest of the world.

There are three apps that I use a lot: Expedia, Yelp, and Gas Buddy.  The few times that I have had to use Expedia customer service, they have been just ridiculously helpful even if they could’t help me (if that makes any sense).  Yelp is good for finding places to eat.  And for a road traveller, Gas Buddy is fantastic for finding cheap gas.

I’m going to be looking for a mapping app and in particular one that will show me where I’ve been but that doesn’t need to be constantly connected to a network.  If anyone knows something like that, I’d love to check it out.

Do you know if there are any additional fees for using your debit or credit cards if you travel to a different country?  More than just the exchange rate of course.

Are you bringing a camera and extra batteries and memory card?  What about a laptop?  Do you have the cords and cables and chargers for all of your electronics?  Do you have an adaptor to plug things into your car or will you charge elsewhere?

So that’s it for people gear.  I decided to write a separate post for camping stuff, which will be the next post.