Driving in Iceland

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If you are planning a trip to Iceland I definitely recommend renting a car. There are other options to see the country without a car (tour buses) but I found having our own car to be the best. We rented our car right in Reykjavik at the airport. We booked it in advance, and honestly just chose the cheapest place we could find. My advice? Rent an SUV. We had initially rented a tiny car to save money, but after further research we decided to splurge on the SUV. We also needed to make sure we had an automatic, many of the cars available to rent are manual which neither of us knew how to drive.
The road conditions in Iceland are very questionable. If you are driving the entire country there will be big stretches of unpacked roads. We wanted to be sure we had a car that could handle anything that we came across. You can check Road Conditions here. If you are just staying near Reykjavik and doing the Golden Circle a smaller car would be fine in the summer. In the winter time you can’t predict the road conditions so I would want the biggest most intense SUV offered!

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We weren’t planning on buying insurance, but you pretty much have to get the basic package. If you don’t they put a giant hold on your credit card (like more than my limit) plus it covers any basic damage from gravel. We drove through a LOT of gravel, so in the end we were very happy to have paid for the insurance.

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Before you go, know that Iceland is an extremely expensive country. Gas was insanely expensive, about $7.50 a gallon. When we rented the car they gave us our keys with a discount card at one gas station. To save a couple dollars we made sure to fill up whenever we passed one of these stations. Another perk with this card? Free coffee!

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So now that you have the car all figured out, it’s time to hit the road. Luckily for this American in Iceland you drive in the right hand side. I drove the entire time in Iceland and Sarah got Ireland. The speed limit is SLOW in my opinion. 90km per hour on paved highways is only 55 mph. It’s extremely difficult to go this speed when you are the only car on the road. Be careful if you do decide to speed, cameras are set up all over the country and you will be ticketed after the fact. We just enjoyed the slow pace and took in all the beauty around us. No tickets for these girls (unless they haven’t arrived yet).

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My absolute favorite part about driving in Iceland? Being able to stop whenever I wanted to. I would simply pull off the side of the road. We would pass maybe 3-5 cars a day in the less populated parts of the country meaning we could stop and take in the views ourselves. DO NOT STOP IN THE MIDDLE OF THE ROAD. Safety first, make sure if you pull off you do so completely. There are plenty of scenic pullouts along the road. There were times we would just stop to relax, I even recall one nap on the side of the road after red eyeing to Iceland. I think we put about 3,000 miles onto the car during our jam packed adventures, having a trustworthy car was absolutely essential to our trip!

Stay tuned for our itinerary! Check out where we stayed here.

 

Iceland: Where to Stay

Traveling in Iceland is one of the most unique experiences I have ever had. The entire country is extremely remote. The capital Reykjavik only has about 200,000 people in it! The majority of our trip was spent enjoying the beautiful country with NO ONE around us. The path we took is the opposite of most itineraries, which was nice because it saved the Golden Circle for last. This was where we saw the most people…and even that wasn’t very many. 


Needless to say, with so few people in the country places to stay are very far and few between. In Rekyjavik and Akureyri you will be able to find some hotels to stay in. We drove the entire country, and therefore had a harder time finding places to stay. We found the best luck staying in Hostels. We decided to only stay at Hostelling International Hostels because we had purchased a card and got a discount. We were also using an itinerary from their website so the days were split by where we could find a hostel. I definitely recommend booking your Hostels in advance! We ended up staying at a few different Hostels than listed on the itinerary because the others were already booked. Many of these Hostels are tiny! 


I had previously stayed in Hostels in Europe, but always a private room. This time we stayed in every and all types of rooms. Our first night we spent the night in a 4 person room with two guys biking the loop, another night in a room of 12 complete with 60 plus year old snoring people. I am an extremely paranoid person by nature, and not once did I feel unsafe. By the time we got to most Hostels we were dead and wanted nothing more than to shower and sleep!

 Every hostel was different and had something to love about them. My favorite hostel stops?? Skogar we walked out to see the Skogafoss waterfall at 1 am. It was breathtaking to see this giant waterfall with so few people around it. 

Berunes the most spectacular view really felt like we were in an abandoned country. It was on a fjord, and we had to drive completely around the fjord to even find dinner! ​

(Snap story shows Berunes Hostel, and Skogar Hostel as well as some views in between!)

Our first night in Sæberg had a natural hot tub…need I say more???? Then there was our last stop the hostel in Reykjavik had a rooftop bar! I definitely did not feel like I was staying in typical “Hostels”. I honestly think staying in these Hostels added to our adventure! 

The next time I travel to Iceland I would love to rent a camper van. You can buy a camping pass for campsites, but you can really just camp anywhere…like right next to a massive waterfall!! 

Relaxing in Lake Tahoe

Lake Tahoe

As much as I love spending quality time in the backcountry, there is nothing quite like relaxing somewhere fun for a few days afterwards. This year we headed to Lake Tahoe. We stayed on the southern side of the Lake. Our first meal was suggested to us by Don our backpacking guide…the Lucky Beaver. Definitely a hole in the wall bar, but delicious burgers and ice cold beer. The perfect post hike meal.


We took it pretty easy after that…showers all around and a trip to the hot tub. A few of us wandered down to the hotels beach access. I was not very impressed. The lake itself was beautiful, but the beach was DIRTY and gross. I was looking forward to seeing more of the lake.


The next morning we woke up early and headed to the north side of the lake. We stopped at a couple scenic spots and took in the beauty of the lake.


My favorite stop in Tahoe was Truckee. We went to FiftyFifty brewing company for a nice lunch and some delicious beers. The weather was perfect and we sat outside.


As mentioned earlier, my birthday was spent in the back country so we wanted to go out for a real meal in Tahoe. We went to the west side of the lake, to a place called Sunnyside Restaurant.

 It is also a lodge, and it sits right on the lake. It was FREEZING by I wanted to sit outside. While enjoying dinner we were treated to the prettiest sunset. Talk about a cotton candy sky.


Overall, our trip to Lake Tahoe was short and relaxing, I would love to come back and do some more outdoorsy things. We were all pretty dead given all of our hiking. Things I would love to do the next time I visit Tahoe? 

Stay on the North Side, Paddleboard, and hike some of the trails. There are so many spectacular views to be seen here, that require a little extra effort.

Backpacking California

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I woke up on a crisp cool morning next to my best friend inside our tent. It was our last day car camping and we began to break camp for our backcountry adventure. It also happened to be my 26th birthday, talk about an awesome place to wake up a year older. One of the best parts of having a summer birthday is getting to spend it some pretty special places. This definitely topped the list.

 

We drove down a winding dirt road to a tiny campground parking lot. We unloaded the car and got our packs on. After the previous days hike I was excited for a shorter hike. The hike was pretty straight forward, only a little elevation gain…but you know me and elevation gain! I could seriously win an award for worst uphill hiker.

 We planned to camp at Green Lake. The craziest part of the day came right before the end of our hike. We reached snow!! Remember snow had already changed our entire trip, but still this Florida girl was shocked to see it hiking in June. We almost couldn’t cross the river to get to our campsite because it was flowing so fast. We had to cross two logs…with our packs on…to make it to other side! Talk about an adventure!

The best part of camping in the backcountry is being so secluded. We had this side of the lake completely to ourselves. We set up camp and explored around our little area. We had a perfect view of the most pristine lake surrounded by mountains.

 My birthday dinner was rice, chicken and a little wine!! Totally worth the extra weight! It was absolutely freezing at night, we had a fire but that didn’t help much. I will never understand people who camp in the snow! TOO COLD! I was VERY thankful for my fleece and my vest! Eventually we crawled into our sleeping bags just to stay warm.

We woke up to a beautiful day and got mentally prepared for the tough hike ahead. We would be crossing the lake and climbing a mountain to get to another lake. The mental part of it was you could see the giant mountain right in front of you. I seriously considered just hanging out at camp while everyone else climbed the crazy mountain.

 

My dad convinced me otherwise. He promised to go at my pace. We would hike 20 minutes, then take a break. This patterned continued and I have to say it was some of my best hiking!

I am so glad I decided to go on the hike because it was amazing. At one point we were hiking straight up a rock pile in the snow! The snow got so deep we were unable to finish the hike. We really only had a mile to go to reach the lake! Don and Ryan tried to venture a little further but decided it was unsafe. 

It didn’t matter to me, we had an INCREDIBLE view from where we stopped. Plus hiking in the snow gave me a major adrenaline boost. I felt like I was on top of the world!!! We made our way back down to camp and half the group hiked a little farther. Mom, Matt and I returned to camp exhausted!

I absolutely LOVED our campsite. We had a giant rock (think the rock in the Lion King) that jutted out by the lake. We would lay and enjoy the sun to warm up! After a long day of hiking we enjoyed our last night at our perfect campsite. I woke up the next morning around 5:00 am to go to the bathroom, and was treated to the prettiest sight ever.

 The light was a soft yellow and bounced off the mountains and filled the air with a calming yellow. It was beautiful. Totally worth crawling out of my tent and into the cold!

Once everyone woke up we broke down camp and began our trek back to the car. For some reason it took FOREVER. I kept thinking we were there and then we would have a little farther to go. When we finally reached the car we broke into the Yeti and enjoyed and ICE cold beer!

 It tasted magical! Haha! We said our goodbyes to Don and packed into the car. We were heading to Lake Tahoe for a few days of relaxation!!

Car Camping Barney Lake

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Wow! I am so sorry I have been terrible at updating,lots of exciting things going on in my life…I AM BUYING A HOUSE (ahhh!) but trying my best to catch up! First up? Our backpacking trip to the Hoover Wilderness. Last summer we adventured through Yosemite Back Country, this year we stayed close to Yosemite but tried a couple different trails in the High Sierras.

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We flew into Reno, talk about a cheesy airport casinos every 5 ft, and stayed at a hotel there. We woke up early, hit Costco, REI, Sierra Trading Post, and then started our drive to the Hoover Wilderness. Our trip had a few wrenches thrown into it before we even arrived. Hoover Wilderness was experiencing some late snowfall. We had to change our plans a little bit. We would spend two nights car camping, and then two nights in the back country.

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I was a little disappointed at the idea of car camping…this was supposed to be a HARDCORE back country trip!! But after two nights of car camping, I am SOLD. We had beer, wine, and delicious dinners. Car camping is my new favorite thing! We also strung our hammocks all through the trees surrounding our campsite. Oh and did I mention there were bathrooms?! Albeit, not the nicest bathrooms in the world, but also not a bush outside.

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The first night we drove to the Whoa Nellie Diner, which we have visited before. It is a DELICIOUS little spot right on Mono Lake…it just happens to be inside a Mobile Gas Station. We had a good meal, beers, and just enjoyed the nice weather. When we returned we sat around the campfire and made smores!

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The next morning we embarked on a big hike. I was under the impression the hike to Barney Lake was 4 miles round trip…nope turned out it was 8 miles round trip. It was a HARD hike on me mentally. It just kept going and going, and I thought it would never end. The beginning of the hike was fairly easy, we went through wide open fields and slowly climbed in elevation. Then we hit some switchbacks going straight up. I wanted to cry…I did cry.

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Mid climb, I had a mini meltdown. I thought I was going to pass out, throw up, or all of the above. If you havent learned yet, I am not the best uphill hiker…and I get a tad bit of anxiety while doing it. I hate the thought of slowing everyone down. Once I sat down I was able to calm myself down. I told the group I was staying put and would meet them when they came  back. Don our guide convinced me to continue going, and I am so thankful he did. The lake was SPECTACULAR. To this day, I still can’t believe how perfect it looked in person. The ice cold water felt wonderful on my feet. We picnicked at the lake, and took a little rest. The hike down was MUCH easier in comparison…no tears going this direction.

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Did I mention, this all happened on my 26th birthday eve? Pretty amazing way to spend it! I would ring in my actual birthday in the backcountry! We returned to our luxurious car camping spot and had tortellini and chicken with RED WINE. The stars that night were spectacular and I tried my hand at capturing the stars. This was our last night car camping, we were packing up in the morning to head into the backcountry!

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Teaching Mission: Ending our Trip

Again, I apologize for being SO behind in posting. I promise there are TONS of exciting posts heading your way! This will be the last post from my trip to the Dominican Republic, but I just found out I get to go again in October! SO HAPPY!

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*These posts are taken directly from my journal*

The morning started off EARLY. We had to get everything together to leave. WE stripped the beds and moved our stuff outside. When I first woke up it sounded like a monsoon. I began to mentally prepare myself for a back of the truck ride in the pouring down rain. We were pleasantly surprised when we came outside and saw no rain! It was just the wind we heard. The people here desperately need rain so I was a little sad it wasnt raining. We said goodbyes to our baby goat friends. I was very tempted to smuggle one back in my bag.

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We got to the school and prepared for a 1/2 a day. The teachers were SO appreciative, but we made sure to let them know just how much we learned from them. My favorite thing we did was create a chain. Each day everyone wrote something they learned and at the end of the week it was huge. After lunch we said more goodbyes and climbed in the truck for the trek back to the capitol.

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On the way up we had the truck to ourselves, but on the way down it was PACKED.Many of the teachers take weekend classes. I was sandwiched smack in the middle of a bag of food. Little Brittani sat on my lap. Going up and down for over an hour in the back of the truck i rough. I definitely got an ab workout not falling over. Little Brittani fell asleep on me. We made it to the gas station in San Juan. I got a cold red gatorade, and we climbed into the nice AC bus. Tea Brittani and Tiffani joined us.

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It took FOREVER to get to Santo Domingo. When we finally neared the resort I had no clue what to expect. We stayed at Playa Esmeralda. It was nothing super fancy, but it was absolutely perfect. I may have cried when I saw the beach. We instantly dropped our bags and ran down to catch the sunset. The beach was full of beautiful palm trees. It was so spectacular to start my morning surrounded by mountains and end it on a beach.

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Before dinner we found Sister enjoying pina coladas. She told us to go grab a drink #itsincluded. and I think our jaws hit the floor. When a nun tells you to enjoy a Pina Colada you do it!

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I am seriously so in love with every person on this team, and I am going to be so sad to leave. We ended the night laying in sand watching the stars. It was the most PERFECT end to an AMAZING trip.

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Oh and I finally got my first real shower of the week…it was cold, but I didn’t care!

Happy Birthday National Parks!


Today is the National Park Systems 100th Birthday, and of course I need to celebrate this big day because without National Parks my love of traveling never would have begun.
I was about 8 years old when my dad took our family to our FIRST National Park. We piled in the minivan and drove from Orlando to North Carolina to visit the Great Smokey Mountains. We hiked (a LOT), white water rafted, and of course became Junior Rangers. Every summer following that we visited at least one National Park. 


My dad always believed that is was extremely important for us to explore the outdoors and to see everything the USA had to offer. As kids we TOTALLY took this for granted. I will never forget the miserable hike up The Mist Trail as a 13 year old. My parents had to bribe us the MnMs the entire way up! To return to that same trail almost 12 years later was incredible. This time around I was taking it all in. 


It’s always been amazing to return to the same place twice…just at different moments on my life. Visiting Yellowstone was spectacular when we went in the summer. We spent the night at the Old Faithful Inn, and white water rafted…and I honestly don’t remember too many hikes (I hated hiking as a child…). Nothing could prepare me for seeing Yellowstone in the winter. It’s pristine and magical. 

So…the question I always get asked…what is my FAVORITE National Park I’ve visited? And my answer is always the same. I can’t pick. There is something about each park that I love. Whether it’s the wildlife seen roaming the park or the giant mountains, there’s something for everyone to appreciate. 


Today in my second grade classroom we spent Social Studies time working on the Centinnial Junior Ranger badge book. I absolutely love getting to share that with my students. We spent a lot of time talking about what an incredible man John Muir was (seriously my hero). I love the message they shared…how ONE man can have such a lasting impact. I am so happy our country has these beautiful and protected places. I can only hope one day to share it with my children.