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What’s Land Acknowledgment? And why does it matter?

I am one of the biggest fans ever of our U.S. National Parks. I have a National Parks passport, and I get little stamps from every park I visit. I was sworn in as a Junior Ranger at the ripe old age of 27. I. Love. Them.

But when I moved to the U.S. as a salty 16-year-old I would complain to anyone who would listen about how there was nothing worth seeing in the states. Nope. Wrong. During my early 20s, I discovered my love for National Parks. They showcase some of the most beautiful and diverse landscapes in our country, from islands to plains, coastlines to deserts, canyons to mountains, volcanoes to forests, and so much more. But they’re also very problematic. Why? Let’s dive in.

In America, we live on stolen land.

American (as well as Canadian, Mexican, Australian, etc.) land was stolen from Indigenous people as a result of colonization and genocide. Indigenous history on this land goes back for millennia. And many of our most treasured National Parks have sacred histories for the Indigenous peoples who called them home long before the lands were stolen and colonized. Yosemite belongs to the Ahwahneechee people. The Grand Canyon belongs to the Havasupai, Hualapai, Navajo, and Hopi peoples. Yellowstone belongs to the 26 tribes whose historic connections to the lands and resources date back since before colonialism. These parks were not discovered by white men like John Muir. The erasure of Indigenous people would have you believe that, but it’s not the truth.

I am a descendent of Indigenous people and I want to do right by my ancestors in recognizing the true history and land ownership of other Indigenous peoples. Their ancestors have inhabited these places since time immemorial, and they still exist in these places. But this nation has sought to erase them for centuries. It’s time to end this ongoing genocide of Indigenous culture and existence.

So how I do a land acknowledgment?

Land recognition and acknowledgment is as simple as going to a trusty resource (like Native Land or Whose Land, both of which have mobile apps) to find out whose land you’re on and then taking a few minutes to read about the people who call it home, so as to acknowledge their existence and their legacy on that land. With land recognition and acknowledgment you have the chance to act in a way that says “Yes, I see you. I recognize you, your culture, your past, your history. These all have meaning and value.” It’s a great beginning step towards being an ally with and supporting Indigenous people. It recognizes that their relationship with the land endures. It’s a sign of respect. It’s truth.

So how do you implement this? Speak it into the world.

At the beginning of your meeting, training, conference, event, etc., speak it into the space. Take a moment to acknowledge whose land you are on by saying something even as simple as “We’re gathered on the occupied territory of the ____________ people, who stewarded this land for generations before us.”

I always include land acknowledgment in the caption of the photos I post on social media to indicate the Indigenous people who originally inhabited the area. Because if there’s a geotag, I need to not only provide the colonized name of the land I am, I need to also recognize the true ownership of that land.

Next steps:

As I said earlier, land acknowledgments are a great beginning step. But it’s easy to fall short and be performative with this acknowledgment. It’s wonderful to begin the conversation here. It’s important to be respectful with this recognition. But don’t stop after you put these words into the world.

Colonialism was not the end of violence and injustice against Indigenous people. They are still being murdered, kidnapped, jailed, and poisoned today. They are still fighting to be recognized by the government, to be acknowledged and not removed from the small amounts of land they have left, given to them by settler systems that aid in Indigenous erasure.

So, here are a few recommended next steps to bring real action and allyship to your words:

  1. When you travel, support Native-owned businesses. Or buy from them online whenever you get the chance! Just give them your money at any and every opportunity to support their craft and their communities. A few of my personal favorites include: THJ Navajo Jewelry, Reclaiming Roots, Reclaim Your Power, Cheekbone Beauty, and B. Yellowtail. You can find more here.
  2. Donate to organizations that work for Indigenous communities and people. A few of my personal favorites include: Native Women’s Wilderness, Indigenous Peoples Power Project, Coalition to Stop Violence Against Native Women, Seeding Sovereignty, Indigenous Environmental Network, Indigenous Women Hike, and Bay Area American Indian Two-Spirits.
  3. Raise awareness and rally for Indigenous issues. Fight for causes like that of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, these are not causes that the wider American public is not discussing because they have no idea about them. When we speak on them and educate, we send change into motion.

Go forth. Acknowledge. Ally.

Giveaway: A $25 Gift Card to Help You Have More Sustainable Periods!

When it comes to living sustainably, we talk a lot about eliminating single-use products from many areas of our lives. Like food and shopping. But when it comes to more intimate and equally wasteful areas of our lives, we gloss over the subject. So today, I’m getting serious and talking about something I don’t think gets enough coverage when we discuss moving towards more sustainable lifestyles: Menstrual products!

Globally, over 100 million people have periods and use an average of 22 pads and tampons per month. That’s 264 products in one year and about 11,000 tampons used in a lifetime per person. That’s a lot of products taking up space in our landfills and polluting our earth.

Let’s further unpack the negative effects of these disposable menstrual products.

First, obviously is the wastefulness of single-use products. Tampons and pads get sent to the landfill, where they remain for centuries and centuries, not breaking down. Nothing designed to be used for a short period of time like this should last forever.

Second is the issue of raw material extraction, such as the production of cotton, which is a very water-intensive process. One little bud of cotton requires six pints of water to grow. And most of the products sold to us use non-organic cotton, which has been saturated in pesticides and insecticides. And pads are 90% plastic, coupled with the plastic used for tampon applicators, these products are perpetuating the demand for fossil fuels to be used in the plastic manufacturing process.

Third, most tampons contain chemicals such as dioxin, chlorine, and rayon. And most pads contain environmentally adhesive that’s used to make the pad stick to your underwear. Why is it acceptable for us to use these products in such a sensitive area?!

So, what are the alternatives?

There are many. From menstrual cups to period underwear to reusable pads, and combos in between. It’s honestly up to your personal preference and body!

Right now, I have a special treat for y’all with a $25 gift card giveaway to Pink Lemonade Shop, a woman-owned small business that creates my favorite reusable cloth pads! I love to use these coupled with my Eva Cup on heavier days and a pantyliner alone on the lighter days.

Enter below and take a look at her products!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Good luck, y’all!

Life Update: We’re Moving!

That’s right! We are moving! After 11 years in Texas, we are going to be calling another state our home next month!

The past few months have been a real rollercoaster for us, so let me just try to share the “short” version of what’s been going on in our lives…

Matthew and I made the decision to move away from Houston and started applying for jobs in May of this year. We’ve been unhappy for Houston for a while. We moved here knowing that it wasn’t long-term and told ourselves we would stay for five years and then make the move to the next place. But we found ourselves unhappy at work as well as with our location around the start of our second year living here. We found ourselves craving so much more than what Houston has to offer us. We missed  culture, greenspaces, and access to the great outdoors, neither of which we felt our area has much to offer. After a lot of thought and reflection, we made the decision to start looking for our next step.

At first, we were set on moving to Washington DC and applied to quite a few positions there over the next two months. In July, I was referred by an acquaintance to a position in Denver, Colorado, so I applied. And because I had applied for a job in Denver, Matt also started applying, so I started applying for more in the area. In mid-July, the interviews started rolling in for both of us. In total, Matt interviewed for four positions in the Denver area, and I interviewed for two in Denver and one in DC. It started to get a little stressful being pulled in two directions, but we knew we had time to figure it out. But circumstances changed at the end of July and put us into a higher stress situation with an actual deadline by which we needed to figure our lives out.

 

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I don’t have any photos of North Carolina because I’ve never been there, so bear with me and allow me to take you down a Texas-themed memory lane! This is a photo from our roadtrip across the Southwest in 2015, we were so excited to take a photo with the Texas state sign on our way home!

 

Because of this change in our situation, Matt started applying for jobs in North Carolina. He had a former colleague who offered to connect him with and refer him for positions at a prestigious uni there.

I was not thrilled about this, at all.

Washington DC is the #1 place I want to live in the US, so I was really excited about the possibility of us making the move there. Denver is a very close second. They both appealed to us for very different reasons. DC is the best place for me careerwise and we love all the museums, culture, and history in the area. And Colorado, need I say more? Hiking galore, National Parks, mountains, everything. While I have never been to Colorado, I knew I would absolutely love it. North Carolina, on the other hand, I have never been to or really considered moving to. Matt grew up on the Georgia-South Carolina border and would go camping, hiking, and whitewater rafting in North Carolina for Boy Scouts. We stood on opposite sides of the opinion spectrum regarding the possibility of moving to North Carolina.

Matt and I didn’t get any of the positions in Denver or Boulder. But Matt started getting interviews in North Carolina and at his request, I started applying for jobs in North Carolina as well.  I was still interviewing for a position with my dream organization in DC, but with no bites for Matt we knew the possibility of us moving there was slim to none. I quickly received an interview with an environmental nonprofit in North Carolina, but that didn’t pan out.

 

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Visiting Matt in Fort Worth in 2014. We were doing long distance while he was in grad school there and I was in grad school in San Marcos.

 

At the beginning of September, our circumstances changed once more when I had to leave my job. I was heartbroken, but this just made it even more obvious that we were not meant to be in Houston, not at this time of our lives or ever. It became certain that we needed to leave.

So here we were, split between Colorado and North Carolina, both of us leaning in opposite directions and having frequent arguments about the situation. It felt like our best opportunities were in different places and one of us would have to make a sacrifice. Frankly, it sucked. I cried several times a day, my anxiety was at an all-time high, and it could feel the toll it was taking on my body. I was resisting North Carolina so hard. I refused to research it and was so discouraged because there were no job opportunities in my field in the area where we were looking. Matt received a job offer in Chapel Hill, North Carolina one day,  so I finally decided to do my homework on North Carolina.

 

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We adopted Gracie from Texas GSP Rescue in 2016, shortly after we moved to Houston-Galveston area. She completed us and made us a family!

 

I searched on Pinterest for any travel blogs about things to do in Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill. Looked at the Instagram geotags. Watched YouTube videos. Researched farmer’s markets and zero waste store options. Admired many a rental home. Drooled over the fall foliage and realized that North Carolina has actual seasons. SEASONS Y’ALL. I haven’t experienced real seasons (other than while traveling obviously) in over a decade! I realized there would be so many cool trips we could do in a three-hour radius, from the Outerbanks to the Appalachians, even up to DC! Plus it would put us much closer to Matt’s brothers, their families, and our nieces and nephew. Very quickly the pros starting stacking up.

After more debating, we decided to make a great leap of faith and yesterday Matt accepted the job offer in Chapel Hill. We will be flying out very soon to visit the area for the first time and look for a place to live. I’m also going to applying for lots of jobs in the area, so here’s hoping I can find something that’s a good fit for me soon.

We are so excited to start fresh in a new state and for this opportunity for new adventures!

 

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Obligatory car selfie after we picked up our marriage license at the county courthouse in 2016.

 

We’ll definitely miss Texas. We moved here a little over 11 years ago, him from Georgia and me from Germany. We graduated from high school, college, and grad school here in Texas. We got engaged and married here. Bought our first home and started our careers here. We’ll miss H-E-B, Whataburger, being close-ish to our parents (we thought a 4-hour drive to them was bad when we lived in Houston, we really took that for granted…), the Texan state spirit, and so much more. But I can’t wait to experience a new place!

A sincere thank you to everyone who has prayed for us and kept us in your thoughts during this process. It has not been easy on my mental health or our relationship, but we’ve been thankful for the support and kindness of our friends and families throughout the past few months.

See ya soon North Carolina!

Must Have Sustainable Travel Accessories

This post contains affiliate links. Should you decide to purchase something from one of my affiliates I will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. Check out my disclosures page for more info.

In the past year, I’ve gotten serious about reducing my waste not only while traveling but in my everyday life. In this post, I’d like to talk about some of my favorite sustainable swaps: bottles, coffee cups, utensils, straws, toiletries, bags, sunscreen, feminine hygiene products, and snack storage bags.

But first one of the things I most want to stress is that if you feel the desire to make one of these swaps, first use what you already own! Many people have this preconceived notion that to reduce your waste and be eco-friendly, you have to spend a bunch of money and get super cute gear. I have cute water bottles and stuff, but honestly most of the time you’ll find me carrying a mason jar around for my iced coffee and juice. And I do have fancy packable bags to keep in my purse, but the majority of the time when I go grocery shopping I use free reusable bags I got at events or as promos. Use what ya got! Save that money, put it towards a plane ticket! But if you do want to buy cute gear, I’ve provided a few options as inspiration for y’all below.

So here we go. Let’s talk about my must have sustainable travel accessories!

Reusable Water Bottle

1. Klean Kanteen Single Wall Stainless Steel Water Bottle | 2. Contigo Thermalock Vacuum-Insulated Stainless Steel Water Bottle | 3. Tree Tribe Stainless Steel Water Bottle | 4. S’well Vacuum Insulated Stainless Steel Water Bottle | 5. Elemental Double Wall Stainless Steel Water Bottle

I always have a reusable water bottle with me. I have quite a few that I will switch out and carry. I used to use Nalgene bottles, but I’ve made the switch to stainless steel bottles instead. Reusable bottles are so much cuter than single-use plastic bottles, and with how much water I drink, they prevent me from putting 5+ bottles in the trash every single day. Plus, bottled water is not any cleaner or healthier than tap water, despite what that industry may claim. And single-use bottled water can cost up to 500 times the cost of tap water even though most companies just bottle tap water and sell that.

Worldwide over a million single-use plastic water bottles are used every single minute. Replacing this bad habit with a reusable bottle is one of the easiest and most effective ways to reduce your plastic waste footprint!

Use what you already have: Obviously, you can use whichever reusable bottles you already own, it doesn’t have to be cute or trendy in design like the ones shown above. To be honest, any reusable is cute and trendy in my book! Alternatively, if you don’t own a reusable bottle already, you can use a jar if you have one sitting around at home. I use my mason jar for water all the time!

Reusable Coffee Cups

1. KeepCup 12oz Reusable Coffee Cup | 2. Silicone Collapsible Coffee Mug | 3. YETI Stainless Steel Rambler

Starbucks alone creates waste in the staggering amount of 4 billion cups per year. While the cups for cold drinks are recyclable, the cups for warm drinks are not. If you’re a coffee shop regular, you can reduce your waste AND save money, since many stores (including Starbucks) offer BYO container discounts!

Use what you already have: If you have a mason jar at home, these also make nice sealable coffee or juice cups!

Reusable Utensils

1. Bamboo Travel Utensil Set with Carrying Case | 2. Stainless Steel 3-Piece Reusable Utensil Set | 3. NUMU Wooden Travel Utensil Set

If you’re ordering to-go, eating street food, or at a restaurant that only offers plastic utensils, you can use these to eliminate potential waste! I have the first pair and always keep a reusable straw in my case as well. They have come in handy so many times, and are an effective way to eliminate some unnecessary plastic waste from your life.

Use what you already have: Before I got my bamboo utensils from my monthly MightyFix, I just used a pair of utensils from home and would keep them wrapped in a cloth napkin!

Reusable Straws

1. Set of 4 Reusable Silicone Straws w/ Straw Squeegee | 2. Set of 4 Glass Straws w/ Cleaning Brush | 3. Set of 8 Stainless Steel Straws w/ Cleaning Brushes | 4. Set of 8 Bamboo Straws w/ Cleaning Brush

More than 500 million straws are thrown away each day in the US. That’s enough to circle the Earth 2.5 times! Every. Day. So when I go out to restaurants, I always make sure to say “water, no straw” when the server asks what I’d like to drink. Most of the time straws are pretty unnecessary. We don’t use them at home, why do we magically forget to drink without straws when we’re out at restaurants? If you absolutely need a straw, there are plenty of alternatives! I have both silicone, stainless steel, and bamboo straws that I absolutely love and swear by.

Or just refuse the straw: Honestly, 95% of the time I just don’t use a straw! When I go out to eat, I always make sure to say “Water, no straw please.” when I order my drink. Easy and effective. I reserve the straws for smoothies, milkshakes, iced coffee, and the like.

Solid/Packaging Free Toiletries

1. Seanik Solid Shampoo | 2. Jungle Solid Conditioner | 3. Outback Soap Bar | 4. Coalface Solid Facial Wash | 5. T’eo Solid Deodorant | 6. Limelight Toothy Tabs

It’s such a pain to pack all your necessities in a carry-on. Mainly because of that liquid rule. But by using solid shampoo, conditioner, face wash, and even toothpaste you can avoid that annoying situation of measuring out your liquids, putting them in a ziptop bag, and praying TSA doesn’t have it in for you when you’re running late for your flight and get caught in security. My personal favorite brand for all these goodies is Lush, they’re amazing because they put an enormous amount of love into every single product. They source the best, safest, and most sustainable ingredients possible. They have been fighting animal testing for decades, and all their products are 100% vegetarian and cruelty-free. They are increasingly moving towards “naked” products, meaning they are ditching the plastic packaging in favor of solid shampoos and such.

Use what you already have: Use the products you already own before going and purchasing more in order to reduce waste.

Reusable Bags

1. Set of 5 Folding Reusable Grocery Bags | 2. leecoo Foldable Reusable Grocery Bag | 3. BAGGU Foldable Reusable Shopping Bag

Americans use more than 380 billion plastic bags each year. On average, the plastic grocery bag has a usefulness of 7 minutes, but an eternal lifespan since they don’t biodegrade. I always keep reusable shopping bags in my car, then at least one more packable one (as pictured above) in my purse. When I check out at the store I tell the cashier that I don’t need a bag, especially when I’m buying one item (I usually just put that one item straight in my purse after I pay). When traveling it’s always nifty to have at least one of these with you.

Use what you already have: Of course it’s really nice to have these packable bags since they take up less space in your purse, but you can definitely still just cram a reusable bag you already own into your purse! It may not pack down as small, but it will do the job just as well!

Reef Safe Sunscreen

1. Stream 2 Sea SPF 30 Sunscreen | 2. Totlogic SPF 30 Sunscreen | 3. Badger SPF 35 Sunscreen | 4. Banana Boat Kids SPF 50 Sunscreen

If you’re planning a beach getaway, make sure you have sunscreen that is reef safe! An easy way to tell is by checking the active ingredients. Reef safe sunscreen’s only active ingredients listed should be Zinc Oxide and Titanium Dioxide. Other “O ingredients” like Octinoxate, Octocrylene, Octisalate, etc. are red flags when choosing reef safe sunscreens. Sunscreen is one of my plastic exceptions since it is nearly impossible not only to find a good product that’s reef safe but also packaging free. You can actually find reef safe sunscreen at any drug store or grocer! I know for sure Banana Boat Kids is reef safe, and there may be more brands that are as well. Just look at those active ingredients!

Use what you already have: Check the sunscreen you already own before you go out and buy products. You may already own a reef safe sunscreen!

Menstrual Cup

1. Lena Cup | 2. Lunette Cup | 3. Pixie Cup

Tampons and pads create so much waste. But you can use one of these cups for up to 10 years if you take proper care of it! Plus they give you leak-proof protection for up to 12 hours! This is by far one of my favorite sustainable swaps I’ve made in the past few years. Cups don’t contain latex, BPA, dye, or any other creepy additives. Almost all tampons contain bleached rayon—a material that can create the possibly carcinogenic byproduct dioxin. The cup saves you space in your bag, saves you money, and eliminates waste from going to the landfill.

I know this may not be for everyone. I totally get that because I almost gave up on it the first time I tried it. There is a very short learning curve with the cup. But just stick with it! Don’t give up! This thing is amazing and so worth it!

Reusable Snack Bags

1. rePETe ChicoBags | 2. Stasher Silicone Food Bag | 3. Lunchskins Set

These are great to pack your travel snacks in! Whether they’re sandwiches, fruit, veggies, trail mix, chips, or anything else you may have a craving for. They’re sturdier and longer lasting than regular, single-use bags. I regularly throw these in my purse or backpack when I’m on the go and I never have to worry about them ripping and spilling all over my bag.

Happy sustainable wanderlusting, friends! I hope these goodies help and empower you to reduce your waste footprint while traveling!

Katy’s Guide to Galveston

Galveston, oh, Galveston.

(If you don’t get that reference, listen to this song to prepare yourself for this post)

Many Texans see Galveston as nothing more than a beach destination, but it is so much more! Galveston will always have a very special place in my heart. It was where Matt and I spent the first year of our marriage. We loved living and adventuring on this little island. Over six million people visit Galveston every year, and many of them visit purely for the beaches, never knowing what a historical treasure this city truly is! So I’d like to share with you a little about why I love this place and a few of my favorite spots around the island city. But first, let’s set the scene…

A Crash Course in Galveston’s History

Galveston Island was originally inhabited by the Karankawa and Akokisa people. The first colonizer contact with this area was when Cabeza de Vaca shipwrecked on/nearby the island in late 1528. In 1785, José de Evia named the island Gálveztown in honor of Bernardo de Gálvez. It wasn’t until 1816 that the island got its first permanent European settlements when the pirate, Louis-Michel Aury, came to support Mexico’s rebellion against Spain. But when he returned from a raid against Spain in 1817, he found the island had been taken over by pirate Jean Lafitte, who had turned it into a “pirate kingdom.” Lafitte remained in Galveston as the self-anointed head of government until 1821, when the US Navy forced him out. Throughout the 1820s and 1830s, Galveston grew as a hub of commerce with the establishment of the port and a customs house. In 1836, Galveston actually became the capital of Texas!

In the 1840s, with the influx of immigrants coming through Galveston, it was like the original Ellis Island. This brought a period of immense expansion, both developmentally and technologically.  The city had many of the “firsts” in the state: post office (1836), naval base (1836), cotton compress (1842), Catholic parochial school (1847), insurance company (1854), gas lights (1856), opera house (1870), orphanage (1876), installation of telephone lines (1878), and electric lights (1883).

By the end of the 19th century, Galveston was a cosmopolitan location. It was one of the nation’s largest cotton ports, the region’s primary business center, and was even known as the “Wall Street of the South.”

But then, on September 8, 1900, the island was struck by a devastating hurricane, which still holds the record as the nation’s deadliest natural disaster to this day. Most of the city was destroyed, and somewhere between 6,000 and 8,000 people perished in the storm. In the aftermath, a 10-mile long, 17 foot-tall seawall was built to protect the city from future storms and flooding. (I’m glazing over the Great Storm for brevity’s sake, but if you’re interested in reading more about it, I highly recommend reading Isaac’s Storm) Much of the existing city was also raised to be 6-8 feet above sea level. Which is why you’ll see many weird mid-shin height fences in the historic district today. The storm stalled economic development, and many businesses and industries moved further inland to Houston, which then became the region’s main metropolis.

The city re-emerged as a tourist destination in the 1920s and 1930s, becoming known as the sin city of the Gulf. This reputation ended in the 1950s, when the Texas Attorney General put an end to the vice businesses in the city. After that, the island’s economy stagnated, but with the growth of family-friendly tourism, higher education, and real estate, the city has become the friendly beach town it is today.

So, what is there to do in Galveston?

So obviously, there’s…

The Beach

In recent years, Galveston has received over six million visitors per year! I’m pretty confident in guessing that 80% of those people only visited the beach. And there’s nothing wrong with that, but y’all… leave the Seawall! Venture out a bit! There are better, less crowded beaches out there! I’m also not about paying to get into the beach (lookin’ at you, Stewart Beach). When we go to the beach, we drive down to the west end and go to the beaches behind the super nice vacation houses. Most of the beaches down past the seawall are mostly used by the people who own/rent those houses, so they’re significantly lower on traffic.

Places to Eat

Since Galveston is a tourist destination, the island obviously has a ton of restaurants. It’s impossible to cover all of them, so I’m just going to cover some of my favorite spots.

And if you want the best ice cream on the island, go to Hey Mikey’s! It’s locally owned, (as are many of the aforementioned restaurants) yay small local businesses!

Places to Drink

Just a few of my favorite places to grab a beer or cocktail:

Things to Do

  • Seawolf Park: Located on Pelican Island, it’s the former immigration station site. Here you can find a local favorite fishing pier and…
  • American Undersea Warfare Center: Here you can explore a WWII submarine and a destroyer escort.
  • Pleasure Pier: An amusement park on a pier over the Gulf, complete with roller coaster, rides, games, and restaurants

Saturday adventuring/working on my Chaco tan. #LoveOurBay #GalvestonBay #kayaking

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  • Galveston Railroad Museum: Home to one of the largest restored railroad collections in the nation
  • Bishop’s Palace: A museum of Galveston’s grandest and best-known home
  • Galveston Historic Tour: Leaves from Ashton Villa’s visitor center, you must call to reserve spots ahead of time. I highly recommend this tour, I’ve done it four times! They teach you so much about the city, its history, and the people who have called the island home.

  • The Bryan Museum: A huge collection of historical items housed in the historic Galveston Orphans Home
  • Moody Gardens: A zoo, aquarium, IMAX theater and adventure center all in one
  • Schlitterbahn Waterpark: If giant waterslides are your thing, Galveston has them

  • Murdochs: If you’re looking for a place to shop for souvenirs and gifts, or a place to hang your hammock, this place has both!
  • Jean Lafitte’s Maison Rouge: A quick photo opp stop, this was once home to Galveston’s most famous pirate resident
  • Ghost Tours: Galveston is super haunted, learn about the ghosts of this island town on a top rated tour
  • Evergreen Cemetery: If you’re a cemetery lover like me, check this place out as a little spot when you’re driving down Broadway. I love the glimpses into history that cemeteries can provide. At this cemetery you can see the traces of the yellow fever epidemic that struck in 1867, as well as that of the Great Storm.

Places to Stay

  • Hotel Galvez: Matt and I stayed here while we were househunting for our move down to the island. It’s a beautiful historic (and haunted!) hotel right next to the sea.
  • Tremont House: Historic, European-style hotel in the heart of the Strand district
  • San Luis Resort: Upscale beachside resort
  • Moody Gardens Hotel: Perfect place to stay if you have kids and are planning to go to the zoo and aquarium at Moody and/or Schlitterbahn

    Know Before You Go

  • There isn’t a real “off-season” in Galveston. Obviously late spring/summer/early fall are peak times, but there’s still quite a bit of tourism on the island even throughout the winter. So hotel rooms may be hard to come across and they may be pricey,
  • Be aware of weekend events before planning your trip. There’s always something big going on every weekend in Galveston. So it’s good to check the calendar on galveston.com before planning a trip. It would be unfortunate if you’re planning a trip around certain attractions only to realize that something like Lone Star Rally, Dickens on the Strand, or Mardi Gras may force you to change those plans.
  • Be on the lookout for lots of water line markers and placards on buildings. Especially on the Strand you’ll see lots of these marking how high the water rose during different hurricanes throughout Galveston’s history. You’ll also see “1900 Storm Survivor” placards on houses and buildings. These were miraculously left standing after the Great Storm!

The first time I saw one of these markers, just imagining the extent of the flooding

  • Yes, the water is brown. No, it’s not gross and polluted. Many people knock Galveston because “the water’s dirty.” So let me tell you right now, as someone who works on water quality in the area: the water is not brown because it’s gross and polluted, we just have fine sediments that get churned up by the waves and currents, which make the water appear brown. On calm, windless mornings, you can admire the blue water on the beach. That being said…
  • Do not swim after it rains. If you’re swimming anywhere that’s in close proximity to the city, you should probably follow this rule. Fecal bacteria levels spike in the water after it rains because that water is picking up all the pollutants on land and bringing it to those waterbodies. The seawall beaches always have high bacteria advisories after it rains, but if you go down to the west end, where it’s just the vacation houses here and there, the water is usually fine. Check this website to get the most up to date conditions.
  • Galveston is a little “rough around the edges.” Some of the areas may be a little run down and the streets may have a lot of potholes in places. It’s not the nicest beach town, but it has so much character, and honestly, because of that it has become my favorite beach town. To me, it’s a diamond in the rough.

I hope you enjoy your trip to Galveston! It’s truly a special place with so much to see and experience. Happy planning!

Know Before You Go: Yosemite National Park

I spent a long weekend in Yosemite and it quickly became one of my favorite National Parks! Everywhere you look there are the most breathtaking views and dramatic landscapes. It’s a wonderful little corner of the earth. For anyone who is a first-time visitor, there are a few things to be aware of. Here is what you need to know before you go: Yosemite National Park edition.

1. This is the land of the Ahwahnechee people.

It’s so important to acknowledge and honor the native people who once called our National Park areas home. In the cases of many of treasured icons, indigenous people were forcibly relocated from their sacred lands in order to establish National Parks. Yosemite was originally the home of the Ahwahneechee people. For them, the story of Yosemite’s development since the mid-1800s is tragedy and tears, yet a number of resilient Ahwahnechee people have survived and still live here. I encourage y’all to research, acknowledge, and honor the Native history of the places you visit. As allies, it’s so important for us to do this.

I love our National Parks, and I love how they connect us with the most beautiful landscapes our country has to offer. But I think we need to be more honest about aware of the history behind our lands.

2. Yosemite is the third American national park.

I mention this because it the history of the park is very closely tied to John Muir and Teddy Roosevelt. You’ll see their fingerprints on so many aspects of the region. It was cool to know to know that, at times, I’d be standing on the spot where these trailblazing conservationists had once stood.

3. Try to stay as close to the valley as possible.

We stayed at a lodge in Fish Camp, which was a 30-minute drive from the visitor gate and an hour drive from the valley. So we did a lot of driving…

We booked our accommodations less than a month out from our trip because the trip was as spur of the moment as it gets for us. I would have preferred to stay in the valley, which is essentially the heart of the park. By staying in that area we would have been better able to maximize our time. There’s plenty of camping space, but we didn’t really want to travel with all of our gear. And the lodges and hotels closer in to the valley book up at least 6 months in advance, so the earlier you can reserve, do it!

4. The roads can be steep, make sure you are engine braking.

If you’re driving, don’t rely on riding your brakes all the way down those mountain switchbacks. Downshifting allows “engine braking” to control the vehicle’s top speed,  and it is the best way to drive on steep terrain. Engine braking uses the engine’s compression to apply resistance to the drivetrain to slow the car. So when going downhill, shift the car into a lower gear instead of just having it in drive, and then supplement with regular braking.

5. Tunnel view is the best view in the park!

Stop here for sure. This is the best photo opp in the park because you get such a great view of some of the most iconic features!

6. Yosemite is one of the most “commercialized” parks.

It was interesting going from my most recent National Park experience, in Big Bend, to Yosemite. There were so many different restaurants and stores in Yosemite. There’s not really much you can’t get in the valley. It’s its own little city. And I’m not saying it’s bad, it’s just different from what some of us may be used to.

7. Traffic and parking may an issue.

During peak months (June-August) the monthly visitation of the park can range from 500,000-600,000 people. And in its least busy month (January) it still averages a little over 100,000 people. So you can imagine how crowded it gets in the park. Lines to enter the park get backed up quite commonly, there are traffic jams on the few roads around the valley, and the parking spots fill up fast! Be aware of this. Make plans to arrive early, take the shuttle around, or rent and ride bikes.

8. Don’t miss the hotel and interpretive nature walk tours.

These tours are led from the Majestic Yosemite Hotel once a day. The interpretive nature walk starts shortly after the hotel tour finishes, so it’s convenient to do them both when you’re in that neck of the woods. I highly recommend doing both since they give you some valuable knowledge of the park, its history, and the biodiversity of nature.

9. Half Dome requires a permit.

The world-famous Half Dome is a 14-17 mile round trip hike with an elevation gain of nearly 5,000 feet/1500 meters. The final leg of 400 feet/120 meters to the summit is done using cables. A permit is needed only for the cable portion at the very end. A daily lottery drawing is held 48 hours in advance for these permits, you can find more info on that here.

10. Don’t expect peace and quiet.

Because this is one of the most famous parks in the United States it is very heavily visited. There were tons of people everywhere we looked when we visited. It’s hard to find a spot all to yourself to get that “alone in nature” feeling. But that brings me to my next point…

11. Get off the beaten trail and into the backcountry.

The valley takes up barely 7 square miles out of Yosemite’s 1,200 square mile area. And while it is the location of some of the park’s most iconic sights, including Half Dome, Yosemite Falls, Bridalveil Fall, and El Capitan, there is much more to be seen beyond this small area. The Sequoia groves, Hetch Hetchy, Mirror Lake, Merced Lake, Glacier Point, and much more. 95% of visitors stay in the valley, so take the opportunity to venture out! Especially if you crave that “path less traveled” vibe.

12. Gas up before entering the park.

As you come into the park, take the opportunity to fill up in the towns before entering the park. Gas in the park is very expensive! And you will be doing lots of driving into, out of, and around the park!

13. Stay. On. The. Trails.

Trails serve a purpose. And that’s for you to walk. on. them. Surprise, right? Nothing angers me more than seeing people knowingly venturing off the marked trail to take a shortcut or to go find a photo opp. When you venture off a marked trail you could be trampling plants, delicate root systems, and wildlife habitats.

I saw so many people taking reckless shortcuts on hikes in Yosemite. And Glacier Point was infuriating to me because I saw so many people climbing the short divider fence and walking straight past the DANGER DO NOT ENTER sign, chuckling as they said “I’m a rulebreaker!” All for the prefect ‘gram, right?

Don’t do it. Don’t endanger yourself. Don’t disrespect the nature. Stay on the trails. Obey the rules. When a sign says “Do Not Enter” then do not enter!

Don’t be like these people.

14. There is extremely sparse phone signal and wifi in the park.

Expect to have no service for most of your Yosemite adventures. Enjoy it! Being free of technological distractions and out in the gorgeous scenery of this National Park is amazing!

15. Check for any closures before your visit.

If you visit during the summer this will be less of an issue. Many roads are closed seasonally due to winter conditions, so if you’re visiting around the end of spring or fall, you may have to be more mindful here. Certain areas may be closed as well. For example, the Mariposa grove of giant seqouias has been closed for years to undergo restoration efforts and will reopen in the summer of 2018.

16. The majority of the most famous sights are easily accessible.

And what I mean by this is you can access them by car and/or a short paved “hike.” It’s nice to be able to easily experience the best of the best and most beautiful.

17. Don’t forget your reusable water bottle! 

Yosemite is pretty serious about their sustainability (which I love!) and they have plenty of water bottle refilling stations around the park. Some of the hikes can be exhausting, and the weather can get hot, so it’s always a good idea to make sure you have water with you. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate!

Good luck with your planning! Happy wanderlusting, friends!

Know Before You Go: Mexico City

I spent the long Memorial Day weekend in Mexico City this year, and in four short days I fell in love with the place. I was lucky because I visited with my parents, who had both visited CDMX before and knew what was up with the area, getting around, attractions to visit, etc. My mom is also Mexican and lived in the country for a while when she was younger, so she was able to lend much of her own experiences and knowledge to our trip. Plus she was the best translator! Overall, this city is very tourist friendly and easy to navigate in all aspects. But there are a few things to be aware of, so here is my Know Before You Go: Mexico City edition!

1. Yes, Mexico is safe.

Don’t listen to the people who advise you to steer clear of the entire country “because the cartels!” or whatever. Mexico City has a lower crime rate than Washington DC. I felt completely safe during our trip, and as long as you exercise common precautions (such as not flaunting the amount of cash you have on your person, not keeping your cell phone in your back pocket when walking around, etc.), you’ll be just fine.

2. Steer clear of tap water and Montezuma’s Revenge…

Mexico suffers from a myriad of water quality problems. The most notable of which are the inadequate water treatment facilities and outdated water delivery infrastructure. This means most of the potable water delivered to Mexican households carries unspecified impurities, including bacteria that can make you sick. Along with this, the problem is also in the old, rusty pipes, which introduce impurities into the water that can make it unsafe for drinking.

As much as I, one of the biggest anti single-use plastic people you’ll ever meet, hate the idea of relying on bottled water, I do not want to get sick. When I visited Guadalajara in 2015 on family business/a trip to buy my wedding dress, I opened my mouth in the shower and drank some of the water. I developed a full-on case of Montezuma’s Revenge that night. [Yes, just like in the Sex and the City movie, IT ACTUALLY HAPPENS, Y’ALL.] I’ve learned my lesson and I exercise more caution. During this trip to CDMX, my family and I bought large bottles (like 2-3 gallons) of water and filled reusable bottles with that water. That way we were able to cut down on plastic, but still stay hydrated and healthy.

As for the ice… Most restaurants and resorts serve purified ice, so it’s totally safe to drink your cocktail or soda with ease. A quick way to tell if the ice is purified is to look for a cylinder shape with a hole in the middle.

3. The weather is very pleasant!

We visited at the end of May, so basically the beginning of the summer season. The temperatures were in the mid to high 80s, but so pleasant! There was virtually no humidity, which made this Houston transplant so happy! The sun can be pretty brutal, but in the city where there’s plenty of shade and we were very comfortable. The warmest we got was at the pyramids in Teotihuacan. There were no trees or buildings to provide shade and not a cloud in the sky, and with the climbing we were doing we got hot very fast.

Bonus tip: Since the weather is so temperate many buildings do not have air conditioning. Our Airbnb did not have AC, but when we booked we made sure they would provide tower fans for tour rooms, which kept our rooms at comfortable temperatures through the night. I absolutely hate the heat, but I was fine with the fans running. If you don’t think you can handle the lack of AC, just be sure to check the details and book a place that does have it!

Sweatin’ it up at the pyramids

4. Do not rent a car.

I thought Houston drivers were bad, but I have never in my travels through 32 different countries experienced crazy driving like in CDMX. We Ubered everywhere since it was so cheap, and just seeing how people zoomed across ten lanes of traffic with no signal and turned right/left from whichever lanes they desired on the regular was enough to make me feel thankful I don’t have to drive there. I also noticed that many four-way intersections have no stop or yield signs, so I’m honestly not sure if right of way is a thing. I was amazed at how cars just seemed to know when it was their turn. Thinking about driving in that city gives me real anxiety, so due to the availability of public transportation and the affordability of Uber, I’d advise you skip out on the rental car for sure.

5. Cash is king.

Self-explanatory. At the beginning of the trip, I withdrew a couple thousand pesos and used that to pay for everything. Food, souvenirs, tips for the Uber drivers, etc. The only time I swiped my card during this entire trip was when I took money out of the ATM.

Bonus tip: The $ sign denotes pesos in Mexico. When you see a dish on the menu that’s $200, that means 200 pesos (about $10), so don’t freak out when you see those prices!

At the Mercado De Artesanias La Ciudadela, my favorite place to buy souvenirs and Mexican goods.

6. It’s super affordable!

As I mentioned before Uber rides ran us about $5-7USD for a 20-30 minute ride across town. We ate breakfast at a really cute and trendy cafe in Condesa that charged us approximately $20 for breakfast for four people plus coffees and a fruit plate. And you can get nice Airbnbs in the trendiest colonias (neighborhoods) for less than $60USD per night. This is one of the most affordable places we have traveled to yet!

7. Exercise caution with street food.

My abuela never ever let my mom and her siblings eat street food, so that sentiment was passed down to my mom, and then to me. And I can proudly say I’ve never had food poisoning from any of my trips to Mexico! I have a few friends who have tried tacos from street vendors and suffered the consequences, so while I used to think that this precaution was a little much, I’m a firm believer now. There are exceptions of course. Sprinkled around the city, there are reputable vendors who won’t make you sick, but just be sure to do your research before you eat. One street food vendor I highly recommend (and can vouch for) is La Esquina del Chilaquil!

A trustworthy street food vendor with a line down the street block

8. Foreign tourists are everywhere.

When I went to Guadalajara a few years ago, I never saw one tourist. Or at least, any obvious ones. It’s much less so a tourist city. So I was kind of surprised when I saw how many Americans there were in CDMX, especially in the colonias of Condesa and Roma. This is nice because more museums and restaurants have bilingual staff to assist people who don’t speak Spanish. And if you’re a safety in numbers person, it may make you feel safe and reassured that you are walking the streets of the city with other foreign tourists.

But don’t let that turn you off to the city if you’re travel hipster and prefer off the beaten path destinations. The city is so large you can definitely escape the tourist hotspots in favor of the more local spots for the authentic experience. In my opinion, CDMX is the right amount of touristy. Somewhere between the all-inclusive resorts that are their own islands in absence of Mexican culture and the tiny little rural villages that never see tourists in their lives, and in all the right ways.

9. Tips are customary, with a few exceptions.

A 10% tip on food and drinks is customary in Mexico, with the exception of street food vendors. You can leave the coins on the table or bar just as you would in the US. The cost of the metered taxis is all-inclusive, so you do not have to tip. And of course, you can tip your Uber drivers in cash or via the app.

At the Soumaya, the best museum open on Mondays.

10. Basically everything is closed on Monday.

If a part of your trip falls on a Monday, just be aware that many attractions are closed. Save attractions like the Pyramids at Teotihuacan or the Museo Soumaya for a Monday, since they will be open. Just be aware! I was planning on visiting the Museo Nacional de Antropología on the Monday of our trip, but irresponsibly did not check the operating days and hours. So I ended up missing out on it completely.

11. Don’t flush your toilet paper.

A good rule of thumb is if you see a wastebasket next to the toilet, you’re expected to place your used toilet paper in it. Due to the infrastructure of their pipes and such, this is the norm in Mexico. So don’t be like me and clog the toilet in your Airbnb on the first day of your trip.

12. Brush up on your Spanish.

Learn some phrases that will actually come in handy. Such as: con permiso (excuse me), la cuenta por favor (the check please), or ¿cuánto cuesta? (how much does this cost?)

Vendors and such who speak English can be few and far between. And it’s always nice to know enough of the local language to be polite.

Smog over the city from a distance.

13. Pollution is a big issue.

Air pollution in Mexico City was so bad at one point that children were coloring pictures of a grey sky, and not a blue one. Because of its geographic location in a valley surrounded by mountains compiled with the large number of cars traveling its streets, smog is a big problem the region faces. But with government programs that encourage bike-riding and limit the number of days motorists can take to the streets, longtime residents say the pollution problem is much better than it used to be. If you have asthma or any other condition that may be worsened by high amounts of air pollution, take the proper precautions to keep yourself healthy during your stay.
Along with air pollution, I noticed that litter is a big issue as well. When you visit, please do your part and help make the city a little cleaner by properly disposing of your waste instead of tossing it on the ground.

14. There are so many green spaces in the city!

I was pleasantly surprised by the number of parks and tree-lined walking trails in the city. There were so many people out walking their dogs in the parks and children playing on their playgrounds, it just made me so happy to see people utilizing and enjoying their green spaces. One must-do park in the city is the Bosque de Chapultepec, one of the largest urban parks in the western hemisphere. At 1,695 acres, it dwarfs Central Park (which is only 843 acres). One of my favorite places in the city was Avenida Amsterdam. In the early 20th century in Condesa, there was a horseracing track called the Hipódromo. Its oval shape where horses used to run is still defined, but in the form of a walking trail lined with trees and other greenery.

Love this beautiful city!

I hope y’all get the chance to visit Mexico City soon! It’s a breathtaking and vibrant place that is, in my opinion, so underrated. Good luck planning, and happy wanderlusting!

To view more of my content on Mexico, visit my Mexico index page.

Japan: 7 Things I’d Do Differently

While our trip to Japan was wonderful, it was definitely far from perfect. We do have some small regrets, and we know we missed out on a few experiences we would’ve enjoyed. But hey, it’s not like we can’t visit again, right? In fact, ever since we returned Matt has talked about how he misses Japan and wants to plan another trip there. When we do eventually make it back, there are definitely things I would do differently. Hopefully this helps some of y’all first-time visitors in your travels!

1. I would not visit over Christmas/New Year’s.

The weather was nice and cool, with the temperatures in the 40s most days. And it is considered to be “off-season,” but honestly is it ever really off-season in a destination like Japan? Really, there was so much stuff we missed out on because of the holidays. Pretty much everything was open on Christmas day in Tokyo, but being in Kyoto on New Year’s we were not as lucky. Many of the attractions we wanted to visit, such as Nijō Castle, the Imperial Palace, and Nishiki Market, were closed. There were a few museums, like the Toyota Museum, we wanted to visit that were closed for a block of about two weeks around the holidays.

Beyond that, traveling was just more expensive and complicated. The shinkansen lines were also packed and we had a hard time getting tickets when we were going from Tokyo to Kyoto and back. Airfare was also significantly more expensive to fly out on 22 December and back on 5 January. I tracked flight prices for months, and I saw them hovering around $600-800 in October and November, but the lowest they sat for the holiday weeks was around $1,000.

Along with all that, visiting shrines on/around New Year’s is customary in Japan. So if you’re planning on visiting some of the more famous shrines around that time, be prepared to battle the crowds. Sights like the photo to the left of Fushimi Inari were pretty commonplace, and there were many times where we just felt like we were being herded along a route and weren’t able to experience the shrines and temples at many of the popular destinations (Kinkaku-ji, Ginkaku-ji, Kiyomizu-dera, and so on).

I think I would prefer to visit in the fall, when the temperatures are cooling down but not in the swing of the holiday season yet. Here is a list of the stations where the JR

2. I would redeem my JR Pass at a less busy station.

When you order your JR Pass, you must do it a few weeks (at the least) in advance of your trip, before you enter the country of Japan. They’ll send a voucher to your home address and then you have to take that voucher with you to one the select JR stations that have an office which will allow you to redeem it for your pass.

We wasted a good few hours in a long line of other tourists trying to redeem their passes at Tokyo Station on our way out of town heading to Hakone and Kyoto. And after waiting in line for a frustrating amount of time, just trying to redeem the pass, we had to get in another equally long line just to purchase our tickets for our train out of the city. As a result of this delay, our whole day was off and we had to alter our plans quite a bit.

Next time we go, I’ll definitely redeem our passes at a station that’s not basically the busiest shinkansen station in the city. Here’s a list of the stations where you can redeem your pass. Heed my warning and spend your time more effectively!

3. I would splurge on a ryokan.

Ryokans are traditional Japanese inns, and they offer a very unique experience for travelers. We had originally planned to stay a night or two in ryokan, but by the time we got around to booking our accommodations most of them were completely booked. And the ones that remained were so far out of our price range. On our next trip to Japan, I will be absolutely sure to book a ryokan early. I definitely don’t want to miss out on that experience again. Watch the video below to get an idea of what staying in a ryokan entails.

4. I would spend more time in the countryside.

I think me and Matt’s biggest regret from the trip was not spending more time in Hakone. We were enchanted by the Japanese countryside and felt like we had been a little overambitious in our itinerary. If we had known how much we’d love little towns like Hakone, we would have spent more time in them instead of in Tokyo and Kyoto. It was such a nice break from the hustle, bustle, and crowds in the city.

5. I would bring back more souvenirs.

We packed light and brought an extra, packable bag (like this one) with us in preparation for buying and bringing back a bunch of souvenirs. But for the whole trip, I kept seeing things I wanted and I kept saying “oh, I’ll buy it later” or “I’m sure I’ll see more of these, I should shop around for options.” If I could do it all over again, I’d probably buy more stuff that I liked on the spot instead of waiting and then forgetting.

And I would definitely buy more of the flavored Kit Kats! They made nice little gifts for our friends and family back home, we made cute goodie bags with an assortment of different flavors and also stuffed some small things like Buddhist charms and gashapon trinkets inside.

6. I would take a dip in an onsen.

This one is a little trickier since Japan has some very strict rules about tattoos and onsen use. While tattoos are becoming more widely accepted in the country, their onsen establishments are very much steeped in traditional rules and do not allow people with body ink to use them. I was a pretty scared I would get caught and/or in trouble for having a tattoo while trying to visit the more popular onsens. While there are tattoo friendly onsens scattered throughout Japan, we just didn’t put much effort into seeking them out, which I now regret. I would really recommend prioritizing this experience for those traveling to Japan, and I hope to return one day so I can cross this item off my bucket list.

7. I would [try to] not get sick.

We lost an entire day while we were in Kyoto because we both sick. Matt was sick for most of our trip after arriving in Japan. We think he picked something up on the plane. There were so many people coughing and sneezing during that 15-hour flight that it wouldn’t be surprising if he did. Meanwhile, I was struck by a particularly bad case of vestibular neuritis, which gave me the worst vertigo of my life. Like, had to lay flat on my back all day or else I’d get so dizzy and nauseous I’d hurl type of vertigo. Luckily (I use this term very loosely here) Matt’s worst sick day was the day I was hit with my vertigo, so we just sat in our Airbnb being miserable and sick together all day and didn’t have to feel bad for ruining each other’s day.

I would definitely advise pre-gaming your trip with some immune system boosting. Take some Emergen-C every day in the week leading up to your flight, maybe even take some on the trip with you. Load up on hand sanitizer, too! I’m sure traveling on public transportation played its own part in the illness.

Happy planning, friends!

Our Yosemite Trip in Photos

Our trip to Yosemite was a short one, but we packed quite a bit into our three-ish days there! I’ve been dying to visit for as long as I can remember, but for some reason my parents never took me. We’re native Californians who have never been to Yosemite. How shameful is that? I was so glad to finally visit and experience one of the first and most iconic National Parks.

Here’s a little peek into our trip!

Welcome to Yosemite! 

Our first view of the Valley

And of course we had to an Aggie Ring photo

Yosemite Chacos in Yosemite!

Chasin’ waterfalls

Getting sprayed and soaked by the mist

Following rivers

Finding rainbows

Gawking at Half Dome

And El Capitan

Admiring the scenery in the meadows

Strolling amongst the giants

Stopping for the roadside views

Enjoying the views from Glacier Point

Channeling my inner mountain goat

Celebrating our second anniversary!

Happy wanderlusting, friends!