Join Me For TravelShare: The Top 150 in Toronto!

Travelshare-Title Join Me For TravelShare: The Top 150 in Toronto!

I’m excited to announce that I’ll be hosting the next TravelShare chat with Kanetix and TuGo Insurance!

In celebration of Canada’s 150th birthday, I’m going to be discussing the top 150 things to do in the GTA with Kanetix.ca and TuGo Insurance. And I’ll be going LIVE! I’d love if you could join me for TravelShare.

Travelshare-Title Join Me For TravelShare: The Top 150 in Toronto!

WHAT’S THE GTA?

The GTA is the Greater Toronto Area! Toronto and its surrounding cities are full of awesome sights and attractions. We’re going to be counting down the top 150 spots to seek, places to go, and things to eat. The Greater Toronto area includes the city of Toronto, Ontario, as well as:

  • Ajax
  • Aurora
  • Brampton
  • Brock
  • Burlington
  • Caledon
  • Clarington
  • East Gwillimbury
  • Georgina
  • Halton Hills
  • King
  • Markham
  • Milton
  • Mississauga
  • Newmarket
  • Oakville
  • Oshawa
  • Pickering
  • Richmond Hill
  • Scugog
  • Uxbridge
  • Vaughan
  • Whitby
  • Whitchurch-Stouffville

Haven’t heard of some of those places? I haven’t visited some of them either. That’s why this list will be so awesome – it will fill your summer travel itinerary with 150 great ideas. You can explore beyond the borders of Toronto for some excellent day trips outside the city. It’s all about local travel…if you’re a local. Otherwise, this list will load up your future travel plans for Toronto and beyond.

HOW DO I PARTICIPATE?

It’s easy!

You can participate before the chat by contributing some suggestions. Do you have a favourite activity, attraction, place to eat, hidden gem, or any fun idea to add to our list? It has to be in Toronto or the GTA. Please add your suggestion to the comments below! If your suggestion is chosen during the chat, you’ll have the chance to win one of several fabulous prizes, including a $100 Air Canada gift card!

Then, most importantly, join me for the #TravelShare live event on Facebook or Instagram. I’ll be broadcasting live with Kanetix.ca and TuGo Insurance on my Facebook and Instagram pages. Be sure to connect with Justin Plus Lauren on Facebook, and @justinpluslauren on Instagram so you can chat on the live feed!

WHEN DOES #TRAVELSHARE HAPPEN?

We’ll be going live on Thursday, June 29th at 4:30pm EST.  (8:30pm GMT / 1:30pm PST). Be sure to look up when the TravelShare chat happens in your time zone!

SAVE THE DATE!

Remember to mark this one on your calendar! Thursday, June 29th at 4:30pm EST on the Justin Plus Lauren Facebook page and @justinpluslauren Instagram account. It will be broadcasted simultaneously from both accounts, so feel free to follow along on your social network of choice!

Help us celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday, learn more about the best things to do in Toronto and the GTA, and win travel prizes! Sound like a plan? We’ll be announcing winners of the awesome travel prizes live during the chat, so you aren’t going to want to miss this one!

To help you remember the event, be sure to join the official Facebook event for the June #TravelShare chat! You’ll get reminders of the chat before it happens, as well as any upcoming details!

Travelshare-Title Join Me For TravelShare: The Top 150 in Toronto!

Share the love! Pin this image to Pinterest to share this event with your friends!

Thanks so much to Kanetix.ca and TuGo Insurance for making this live event happen!

What are your suggestions for the best things to do in Toronto / the GTA?

Finger Lakes Glider Plane Ride: Soaring at Harris Hill

Finger-Lakes-Glider-Plane-Title Finger Lakes Glider Plane Ride: Soaring at Harris Hill

Gliding high up above the Finger Lakes region in a motorless plane.

Have you ever gone for a sailplane ride?

When I learned that I had the chance to ride in a sailplane on a trip to the Finger Lakes (a region in New York state), I had to actually Google search what a sailplane was. A sailplane (otherwise known as a glider plane) offers a completely silent flight. The plane is dragged up into the air by a tow plane and released, allowing you to fly without an engine. I couldn’t even imagine the sensation of gliding up in the air, drifting in the breeze like a bird. I knew that I was in for an adventure of a lifetime.

And what better place to try a sailplane ride than the Soaring Capital of America, Harris Hill and the Elmira area?

Finger-Lakes-Glider-Plane-Title Finger Lakes Glider Plane Ride: Soaring at Harris Hill

Finger-Lakes-Glider-Plane-Title Finger Lakes Glider Plane Ride: Soaring at Harris Hill

MY FIRST GLIMPSE OF REALITY

On a Finger Lakes glider plane ride, you’ll experience the sensation of flight in a completely quiet environment. You’ll hover high in the air, gently circling around as gravity slowly brings you back to the earth.

It wasn’t until I approached the plane that I started to feel nervous. It was only then that I fully realized what I was getting myself into. What was I thinking? I’ve never been inside any helicopter, small plane, or anything close to this type of aircraft. I’ve only flown in commercial jets where it’s easy to forget that you’re even up in the sky.

In this plane made for two, I sat up in the front while the pilot sat in the back. The tow plane would bring our sailplane to an altitude of 4000 feet above sea level before releasing us. From there, we’d gracefully meander in the wind for about 15 or 20 minutes.

I’m sure that my legs were shaking a little bit as I approached the glider plane. However, once I was strapped inside my seat and I chatted to the pilot, my nerves eased up. I couldn’t wait to fly up above the spectacular Finger Lakes, experiencing the region from new heights.

Finger-Lakes-Glider-Plane-Title Finger Lakes Glider Plane Ride: Soaring at Harris Hill

Finger-Lakes-Glider-Plane-Title Finger Lakes Glider Plane Ride: Soaring at Harris Hill

UP IN THE AIR

Flying up in the sky on this Finger Lakes glider plane ride was nothing short of exhilarating.

Once we were ready to go, the tow plane edged forward, eventually pulling our glider plane along with it. Within moments, the glider ascended off the ground. The world grew smaller and smaller as we flew higher and higher. I looked from side to side and marveled at the lush landscape of New York state that extended all the way to the horizon.

Once we were at the proper altitude, the tow plane released the cord and veered in an opposing direction, disappearing out of sight. Our plane was all alone in the sky.

Finger-Lakes-Glider-Plane-Title Finger Lakes Glider Plane Ride: Soaring at Harris Hill

Finger-Lakes-Glider-Plane-Title Finger Lakes Glider Plane Ride: Soaring at Harris Hill

CAPTIVATING VIEWS

I couldn’t get over the silence.

I’m very accustomed to plane rides being very noisy. On commercial flights, it only takes a pair of noise-cancelling headphones to realize just how loud airplanes truly are. I find that I nearly have to yell over the white noise to communicate with someone sitting right next to me.

On a sailplane ride, it was so quiet up there as we lacked any kind of motor. It was also an incredibly smooth ride. We glided around in giant loops. The sensation was as close as I’ve been to flying like a bird.

Don’t forget to bring your camera. Even though I had to battle the reflections of the glass all around me, it was a great opportunity to take pictures of the impressive scenery. From flat farmland to lush, green hills, the Finger Lakes is such a stunning beauty.

Finger-Lakes-Glider-Plane-Title Finger Lakes Glider Plane Ride: Soaring at Harris Hill

Finger-Lakes-Glider-Plane-Title Finger Lakes Glider Plane Ride: Soaring at Harris Hill

Finger-Lakes-Glider-Plane-Title Finger Lakes Glider Plane Ride: Soaring at Harris Hill

Finger-Lakes-Glider-Plane-Title Finger Lakes Glider Plane Ride: Soaring at Harris Hill

Finger-Lakes-Glider-Plane-Title Finger Lakes Glider Plane Ride: Soaring at Harris Hill

Finger-Lakes-Glider-Plane-Title Finger Lakes Glider Plane Ride: Soaring at Harris Hill

RETURNING TO EARTH

We slowly descended throughout the flight, working with the powers of physics and gravity. Finally, it was time to land. While I expected that we could be in for a bumpy landing, this couldn’t be farther from the truth. Much like up in the air, we glided gently to the ground and slowly came to a stop. I only wish that the flight was longer, but all good things must come to an end.

Finger-Lakes-Glider-Plane-Title Finger Lakes Glider Plane Ride: Soaring at Harris Hill

Finger-Lakes-Glider-Plane-Title Finger Lakes Glider Plane Ride: Soaring at Harris Hill

Finger-Lakes-Glider-Plane-Title Finger Lakes Glider Plane Ride: Soaring at Harris Hill

After my flight, the skies became gray and the weather didn’t cooperate for any other flights that morning. I traveled to the Finger Lakes with my sister, Robyn. Unfortunately, she didn’t get to experience a sailplane ride that day.

Thankfully, the skies opened up the following day and there were bright, blue skies. As we staying in the nearby town of Corning, we zipped back over to Harris Hill and learned that she could take her glider plane ride after all! I’m so happy that she got to experience this, too.

Finger-Lakes-Glider-Plane-Title Finger Lakes Glider Plane Ride: Soaring at Harris HillI’m very happy after my glider plane ride because it was an amazing trip!

Finger-Lakes-Glider-Plane-Title Finger Lakes Glider Plane Ride: Soaring at Harris Hill

THE NATIONAL SOARING MUSEUM

Located right on site, you can also enjoy a visit to the National Soaring Museum before or after your sailplane flight. This aviation museum preserves the history of motorless flights. It’s home to many original and replica glider planes, and shows how far we’ve come with this technology. The National Soaring Museum is home to a vast collection of planes, from the late 1890s to the late 20th century.

Be sure to book a tour as I learned so much from our knowledgeable guide. He was truly passionate about the topic of aviation history.

I enjoyed the thrill of experiencing a Finger Lakes glider plane ride first hand, while I also appreciated the trials and tribulations that got us to where we are today.

Finger-Lakes-Glider-Plane-Title Finger Lakes Glider Plane Ride: Soaring at Harris Hill

Finger-Lakes-Glider-Plane-Title Finger Lakes Glider Plane Ride: Soaring at Harris Hill

Finger-Lakes-Glider-Plane-Title Finger Lakes Glider Plane Ride: Soaring at Harris Hill

Check out even more photography from Harris Hill Soaring and the National Soaring Museum! Here’s my travel photography album of my glider plane ride experience.

loading map – please wait…

Map could not be loaded – please enable Javascript!
→ more information

Finger-Lakes-Glider-Plane-Title Finger Lakes Glider Plane Ride: Soaring at Harris Hill

PIN this image to your Pinterest board for future reference.

Thanks so much to Steuben County and Corning and the Southern Finger Lakes Tourism for inviting us to try a sailplane ride. My opinions, as always, are entirely my own.

You might also like:

Have you ever flown in a glider plane before? Would you like to try it?

The Spirited Life and Sad End of the First Indian-American Children’s Book Author

Gay-Neck, the Story of a Pigeon, is the tale of Chitragriva, or “Gay-Neck,” the most beautiful pigeon in Calcutta. Gay-Neck is born in a fancier’s flock and attentively watched and cared for by an unnamed narrator, who occasionally cedes the story to the bird. “It is not hard for us to understand him,” the narrator says, “if we use the grammar of fancy and the dictionary of the imagination.” Gay-Neck distinguishes himself from his flock with leadership, selflessness, and bravery before he is sent off to the front lines of World War I, where he serves as a homing pigeon, dodging German planes and struggling through clouds of mustard gas. The bird describes the clamor of war with a child’s innocence and a naturalist’s eye for detail:

Even there, in that very heart of pounding and shooting, where houses fell as birds’ nests in tempests, rats ran from hole to hole, mice stole cheese, and spiders spun webs to catch flies. They went on with the business of their life as if the slaughtering of men by their brothers were as negligible as the clouds that covered the sky.

In 1927, the Association for Library Service to Children gave Gay-Neck the Newbery Medal, its highest award for children’s literature. The book offers lessons of perseverance and sacrifice with the exotic detail of Rudyard Kipling, but without his colonial baggage. Gay-Neck was written by Dhan Gopal Mukerji, the first writer and scholar from the subcontinent to find success in America. In his time, Mukerji was a groundbreaking figure, a dashing, eloquent, astute observer of both the country of his birth and his adopted home. Over a relatively brief career, he gave countless talks about India and wrote poetry, drama, fiction, social commentary, and philosophy, in addition to the successful children’s books for which he is best known.

Despite his success, Mukerji was troubled by India’s political plight under the British, the elusiveness of spiritual communion, and a predisposition to loneliness and depression. The story of his spirited career and sad death has fallen into relative obscurity, though he primed America for later waves of South Asian immigrants and their descendants—including many a writer among them, from Jhumpa Lahiri to Bharati Mukherjee to Atul Gawande.

image The Spirited Life and Sad End of the First Indian-American Children’s Book AuthorPortrait of Dhan Gopal Mukerji, 1916. Public Domain


Dhan Gopal Mukerji was born near Calcutta to a high-caste family in 1890, one of eight children of an illiterate mother and an attorney father. His mother gave him fables, while his father introduced him to Don Quixote, taught him the six great Indian melodies, and told him of the Sepoy Rebellion. A sister with whom he was close died at age 12, but he has little to say about her passing in his unusual early-life memoir, Caste and Outcast. “In India we live with death on more intimate and friendly terms than in the West,” he wrote, “and it makes less impression on us.”

At 10 he went to study at a Scotch Presbyterian school. At 14 he trained to be a priest by renouncing his possessions and living as a wandering beggar for two years. “You cannot have poets if you do not have beggars,” he wrote. This, as one might expect, was a formative experience, though after that he lasted less than a year as a temple priest.

The details of Mukerji’s life at this point get fuzzy. There are competing stories from his autobiography, his family, and biographies prepared by his publisher, E.P. Dutton, according to Gordon Chang, a scholar at Stanford who wrote the introduction to a recent edition of Caste and Outcast. He worked in the textile industry and ended up in Japan. By one account, he’d dramatically escaped British authorities after the capture of his brother, a revolutionary. By another, he was in Japan to learn about the textile trade and recruit supporters for the Indian independence movement. In Caste and Outcast he chooses to voyage to the United States, but in another version he accepted a free meal in Yokohama, which indebted him to work as a contract laborer on a ship headed to San Francisco.

He was, he writes, instantly enamored of and disappointed with America. “No sooner did they see that I had such feelings for their country than they began to knock it out of me in a very unceremonious fashion,” he wrote.

He took odd jobs, as a dishwasher or housekeeper, and was typically fired for not knowing some basic skill, like serving soup or making a bed. In each case, however, he convinced his erstwhile employer to let him observe the task to ready him for the next job. He may have picked asparagus and hops and beets, often with the few fellow Indians he encountered. In 1910 he enrolled in the University of California, Berkeley—again, there is no consensus on how he ended up there—and later transferred to Stanford, where he earned his degree. At this point the stories about his life begin to align. He fell in with socialists and anarchists, and impressed his professors. The first president of Stanford, David Starr Jordan, became a lifelong supporter and friend.

image The Spirited Life and Sad End of the First Indian-American Children’s Book AuthorIllustration from Gay-Neck, the Story of a Pigeon. Courtesy Cultural Heritage Books

At the time, most Americans knew little of India or Hinduism beyond what they read in Kipling or heard from returning missionaries. There were simply not many Indians in the United States. Immigration from Asia was heavily restricted, and Asians wouldn’t legally be allowed to become citizens until after World War II. Mukerji was the right mind and personality at the right time; he became something of a cultural ambassador for the East, first to American intellectuals, and later to the wider public, through both his writing and exhaustive speaking tours. He found America an inspiring and frustrating place: “I found it had its vulgarity, its bitter indifference, its colossal frauds. It has made just as many mistakes as India has in her time,” he wrote. “And yet there was something constructive in both of these civilizations.”

At Berkeley he met, and later married, Ethel Ray Dugan, an educator. They had a son, Dhan Gopal Jr., and moved to New York, where they were a vivacious social and intellectual presence. The 1923 publication of Caste and Outcast established Mukerji’s reputation. It’s a strange autobiography, cut through with grand, mythical speech that seems pulled from Indian fables, juxtaposed with voices of brusque American folksiness and pretentious anarchists. “At its heart, Caste and Outcast is an optimistic book, reflecting the author’s own joy in writing and in discovering his own purpose in life, which was to serve as what one might call a literary missionary,” writes Chang in the introduction. “The publication of Caste and Outcast marked a turning point in American’s understanding of India.”


In his relatively brief literary career, Mukerji published 25 books, including the children’s books for which he won the most popular acclaim. These books are distinguished by wisdom and courage and life lessons, and often feature animals such as Gay-Neck and Kari the Elephant because, Mukerji said, “Animals have young souls.” The publisher E.P. Dutton wrote, “In only a few years he has jumped into public favor—and more—he has won the hearts of America’s children.”

But success did not hang well on Mukerji. He struggled with depression and anxiety, traits he shared with another prominent friend, the man who would later become India’s first prime minister, Jawarhalal Nehru. “Both were restless, driven, sensitive, and inwardly tortured,” writes Chang.

image The Spirited Life and Sad End of the First Indian-American Children’s Book AuthorIllustration from Gay-Neck, the Story of a Pigeon. Courtesy Cultural Heritage Books

“I have been so fragile. My nerves could not and will not stand any strain. I need one whole year of the Alps. It is an awful state to be in: I need silence and I can’t get it in America,” Mukerji told friends in a letter just before a nervous breakdown. He was also a distant, remote father. Gopal, as his son was called, wrote about his father while in high school at Exeter Academy, including his struggle with “The three greeds and terrors: desire for fame and fear of oblivion; desire for money and the fear of the lack of it; and last, the desire for all the little vanities of life, and the fear of not enjoying them.”

“Success is a curse, a stumbling block in the path of a spiritual life,” Gopal added. And a spiritual life is what the increasingly isolated and stressed Mukerji had sought, unsuccessfully. Following another breakdown, on July 14, 1936, Dugan returned to their New Milford, Connecticut, home and found Mukerji hanging by his neck in the closet. He left no note, but the last thing he wrote was a letter to the Ramakrishna monastery, long the focus of his spiritual life: “You ask me to write, after reflection. I find, I am prepared. My decision has been taken, on reflection. It has been decided: I am. Who decided, you know it. I am mere instrument.”

“How can we feel regret or sorrow?” Dugan later wrote of her husband’s death. “He has what he wanted—the only thing he wanted.”

There was something else that he wanted, at least in the years before his demons overtook him, and that was to have an impact on his adopted country, where he saw so much potential, and so much hazard. “He promoted Indian spirituality to address the void in America’s soul,” writes Chang. “He only wanted to help America see beyond itself.” But that peace and insight, reflected in the final words of Gay-Neck, eluded him.

Whatever we think and feel will colour what we say or do. He who fears, even unconsciously, or has his least little dream tainted with hate, will inevitably, sooner or later, translate these two qualities into his action. Therefore, my brothers, live courage, breathe courage and give courage. Think and feel love so that you will be able to pour out of yourselves peace and serenity as naturally as a flower gives forth fragrance. Peace be unto all!

Why Coloring and Doodling Make Us Feel Good

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, “[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high.”

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including “feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard,” one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and “copious quantities of crazy glue.”

Here’s a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be “trained” by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij’s breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here’s another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you’d likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You’re on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij’s writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He’s also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you’ll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it’s definitely a thing!

The Case of the Hedgehog With ‘Balloon Syndrome’

A hedgehog—apparently lost, severely bloated, possibly close to death—was observed last week wandering the streets of Toll Bar, in northern England. Before we go further, we should note, in case anyone is worried, that this story has a happy ending.

The hedgehog was initially thought to be pregnant, but was walking with some distress and also, for some reason, had blood on its nose. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) then intervened, and found that the poor animal had a rare disease known as balloon syndrome, a condition that only affects hedgehogs, in which gas beneath the skin gathers and expands. It can be caused by a number of things, such as an underlying infection or a “traumatic event,” according to the Press Association.

“It’s the worst case of balloon syndrome I’ve seen,” an RSCPA said. “This poor chap was almost twice its natural size, literally blown up like a beach ball with incredibly taut skin.”

Since being found June 5, the hedgehog has had the gas released and is now looking considerably smaller—and healthier. Here’s a video in which the two-pound mammal, despite his travails, appears curious about the world around him:

The RSPCA says they’ll care for the little guy until he’s ready to return to the wild. Get better, formerly-beach-ball-sized hedgehog!

Pod DC Hotel: An Awesome Hotel for Urban Explorers

Pod-DC-Hotel-Title Pod DC Hotel: An Awesome Hotel for Urban Explorers

Pod DC Hotel is the best place to stay for urban explorers and adventurers.

It’s a brand new experience in the heart of Washington, DC. Pod DC Hotel offers a comfortable place to rest your head at night and helps you make the most of your adventures. So, what’s a pod hotel room like, anyway? And what can you expect from staying at one?

COZY POD LIVING

A pod hotel room is a minimalist space with only the amenities you need. The space is maximized in creative ways, so you’ll be comfortable throughout your stay. Although the rooms at the Pod DC hotel are smaller than your average room, they have an intelligent design with details that will surprise you.

Every room is suited for one or two guests. Traveling with a family? You can request a pod just for the kids, and they’ll love the ones that come with bunk beds!

I stayed in a “full pod”, which is great for those traveling with a buddy or solo. When I visited DC, I was traveling on my own. My room at the Pod DC hotel was perfect for unwinding after a busy day on the town.

Pod-DC-Hotel-Title Pod DC Hotel: An Awesome Hotel for Urban Explorers

AMENITIES FOR A SMART DESIGN

As a frequent traveler, I stay at lots of hotels. Most of the time, I’m looking for a place to sleep at night and not much else. While many hotels come with fabulous amenities, I really don’t end up taking advantage of most of them during my stay. The folks at Pod DC hotel decided to include the amenities that savvy travelers use most often, and ditch the ones that usually just take up space.

For instance, you’ll find the things that we need the most:  free Wi-Fi, media hubs, USB charging ports, a flat-screen TV, and in-room safes. You can stream media from your tablet or phone to the TV.

Things you won’t find? Rollaway beds, a microwave, a refrigerator, a dresser, an ironing board, complimentary newspapers, and a coffee maker. Those things all take up extra space. As the hotel rooms are smaller, there’s simply no room for anything that isn’t absolutely necessary.

For those of you missing your morning coffee, don’t fret. The Pod DC hotel offers complimentary coffee for their guests all day and night from the Panera next door. Usually the coffee you’ll find in hotel rooms isn’t that great anyway. Trust me, the coffee brewed fresh at Panera is a lot better than any in-room concoction.

Pod-DC-Hotel-Title Pod DC Hotel: An Awesome Hotel for Urban Explorers

AN EFFICIENT DESIGN

Every inch of this hotel room was thoughtfully planned to maximize your comfort and care. For instance, there’s still a desk in the room and a nightstand. Two lights are built into the bed’s headboard for reading at night. You’ll find storage space beneath the bed for your baggage.

There are shelves and hooks on the walls for your belongings. At the entrance, there’s a rack with coat hangers for your coats and clothing. Beneath the rack, there’s an in-room safe and more shelves. I appreciated the amount of shelving in this room for such a condensed space.

Pod-DC-Hotel-Title Pod DC Hotel: An Awesome Hotel for Urban Explorers

Pod-DC-Hotel-Title Pod DC Hotel: An Awesome Hotel for Urban Explorers

Pod-DC-Hotel-Title Pod DC Hotel: An Awesome Hotel for Urban Explorers

A LUXURIOUS BATHROOM

Not only is the bed super comfortable for a restful night’s sleep, the Pod DC hotel doesn’t scrimp when it comes to the bathroom either. Beyond a sliding glass door, there are premium toiletries so you won’t need to bring your own shampoo, conditioner, or body wash. The luxury shower had the ideal water pressure for an invigorating experience. After walking around DC all day and evening, this shower was something I really looked forward to, and it never disappointed!

The shelving situation in the bathroom was impressive for a small space. I had room to organize and store all of my own toiletries.

Pod-DC-Hotel-Title Pod DC Hotel: An Awesome Hotel for Urban Explorers

Pod-DC-Hotel-Title Pod DC Hotel: An Awesome Hotel for Urban Explorers

LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION

Why would I want to stay at a pod hotel rather than a standard hotel? It’s all about affordability and location. The Pod DC hotel is extremely affordable considering where you’re staying in the city. Located in Penn Quarter, it’s right across the street from the Chinatown Metro.

It was so easy to find the hotel from the airport. I took the subway right from the Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport to the hotel itself. Once I arrived at the Chinatown Metro Station, I walked across the street and I was at my home base for the next few days.

From the hotel, I walked everywhere. I explored the whole city easily by walking from the Pod DC hotel. There are so many amazing restaurants right near the accommodation. On my typical day of sightseeing, I walked from the hotel to many iconic landmarks and destinations like the White House, the Smithsonian museums, the monuments and memorials, and so much more. Between walking around and having easy access to the subway system, I couldn’t imagine a better location for a hotel.

Pod-DC-Hotel-Title Pod DC Hotel: An Awesome Hotel for Urban Explorers

Pod-DC-Hotel-Title Pod DC Hotel: An Awesome Hotel for Urban Explorers

A ROOM WITH A VIEW

And I couldn’t write an accurate review of this hotel without mentioning the view from my room. As the Pod DC hotel is right in the middle of it all, you can imagine that the view from my room was pretty spectacular, too. Well, it definitely did not disappoint. This was a remarkable scene to wake up to each morning.

Pod-DC-Hotel-Title Pod DC Hotel: An Awesome Hotel for Urban Explorers

Pod-DC-Hotel-Title Pod DC Hotel: An Awesome Hotel for Urban Explorers

Pod-DC-Hotel-Title Pod DC Hotel: An Awesome Hotel for Urban Explorers

PUBLIC SPACES AND RESTAURANTS

As I visited the Pod DC hotel when it first opened (even before the grand opening), I didn’t get to take advantage of the incredible restaurants and public spaces that were still under renovation.

The Crimson Diner is set to open soon (June 2017). It’s a warm and inviting space on the first floor where guests can meet over a coffee or a meal. Serving southern comfort food, it will be open from morning until late at night. In the same space, there will be a craft roaster serving gourmet coffee and fresh pastries.

In July 2017, the Crimson View will become the hottest place in the city to watch the sunset. It’s a rooftop patio with a large indoor/outdoor porch, gardens, and a bar serving local wines and craft beers.

Also in July 2017, the Crimson Whiskey Bar will open one floor beneath the hotel, giving you the chance to sample whiskey in a relaxed environment.

For now, I enjoyed the beautiful murals splashed across the walls of the lobby.

Pod-DC-Hotel-Title Pod DC Hotel: An Awesome Hotel for Urban Explorers

Pod-DC-Hotel-Title Pod DC Hotel: An Awesome Hotel for Urban Explorers

Pod-DC-Hotel-Title Pod DC Hotel: An Awesome Hotel for Urban Explorers

Pod-DC-Hotel-Title Pod DC Hotel: An Awesome Hotel for Urban Explorers

SOCIALIZE AND EXERCISE

Enjoy #PodLife at the Pod DC hotel. There are several social events for guests throughout the week, centered around exercise and exploration. On Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday mornings, a knowledgeable local guide leads guests on a walking tour of the neighborhood, Penn Quarter. Every Wednesday at 7:00am, join the Pod Run Club to go for a jog and see the sights. Furthermore, guests of the hotel have full access to two fitness clubs in the neighborhood: Sculpt DC (a local yoga, barre, and cycling studio) and Washington Sports Club (a full-service health club).

THE VERDICT

The Pod DC hotel has everything that you need: well designed rooms with modern amenities, the ideal location, and even a community within the hotel itself. While you may not have the space to do cartwheels in your room, you’ll have a comfortable place to sleep in a minimalist, yet luxurious space. With the additions of the restaurants, rooftop patio, and bar, the hotel becomes a fabulous destination in its own right.

Staying here is amazingly affordable for the location. I highly recommend booking your next trip to Washington, DC at the Pod DC hotel!

Browse our entire album of travel photos from the Pod DC Hotel in Washington, DC.

loading map – please wait…

Map could not be loaded – please enable Javascript!
→ more information

Pod-DC-Hotel-Title Pod DC Hotel: An Awesome Hotel for Urban Explorers

PIN this image to your Pinterest board for future reference.

You might also like:

Disclaimer: Thanks so much to the Pod DC Hotel for hosting my stay. My opinion, as always, is entirely my own. I highly recommend staying at this hotel as I thoroughly enjoyed my visit.

Have you ever heard of pod hotels before? Have you ever stayed at one?

Mark’s Crocs Footwear: The Versatile Travel Shoe

Marks-Crocs-Footwear-Title Mark’s Crocs Footwear: The Versatile Travel Shoe

Searching for that perfect shoe for your adventures? Crocs footwear at Mark’s are the ultimate travel shoe!

Traveling light is a challenge. There are many reasons to travel with less things – you might be traveling with only a carry on bag, or you don’t want to weigh down your backpack. Whether you’re flying across the globe or going away for the weekend, it’s always a good idea to bring just the essentials. Shoes are one of the bulkiest items that take up room and add weight to your pack. Wouldn’t it be awesome if you traveled with simply the shoes already on your feet?

Enter Mark’s and their collection of Crocs footwear! Yes, Crocs travel shoes are the ultimate kicks to sport this summer on your weekend adventures.

Marks-Crocs-Footwear-Title Mark’s Crocs Footwear: The Versatile Travel Shoe

Marks-Crocs-Footwear-Title Mark’s Crocs Footwear: The Versatile Travel Shoe

COME AS YOU ARE

Crocs’ motto is, “Come as you are,” meaning that we should be comfortable in our own shoes. Everyone is an individual and we are impossible to categorize. As we are all unique in our own special ways, Crocs has a massive portfolio of shoes out there that will appeal to every taste and need.

I’m a traveler and adventurer, though I still like to wear dresses every now and again. I need a shoe that can withstand walking miles every day as I explore new cities. At the same time, I need something that will transition into a sandal that I can wear to the beach. Furthermore, I enjoy getting dressed up for a meal at a restaurant or a night on the town.

Justin wants a shoe that looks stylish, yet casual. He needs footwear that will match shorts, jeans, or pants. The shoes should easily slip on and off, for those moments where he might just feel like running into the lake or ocean for a dip.

Marks-Crocs-Footwear-Title Mark’s Crocs Footwear: The Versatile Travel Shoe

The Women’s Swiftwater Sandals were the clear choice for my lifestyle. They’re lightweight and easy to slip on and off. There are three cross straps that wrap around my feet for support, and the textured top soles grip my feet as I walk. It feels like I’m walking on air, and I could walk for days in these.

Like all Crocs, they’re made from Croslite foam material. This is Crocs’ revolutionary, proprietary technology that gives the shoes their lightweight feel. Crocs are notorious for being soft and comfortable.

And add fashionable to that list. I can wear these strappy black sandals with leggings, pants, a skirt, a dress, or almost any outfit. They are versatile and suited to all of my needs. I’ve found the perfect travel shoe in Crocs!

Marks-Crocs-Footwear-Title Mark’s Crocs Footwear: The Versatile Travel Shoe

Justin chose the Men’s Santa Cruz Slip-On Shoes. These loafers are perfect for everyday use and weekend getaways to the cottage. They’re casual enough to wear by the dock and stylish enough to wear out on the town that same evening. Crocs offers shoes for every season, and these shoes are perfect for spring, summer, and fall in Canada.

And like all Crocs, they’re free of animal products, making them vegan and 100% cruelty-free.

Marks-Crocs-Footwear-Title Mark’s Crocs Footwear: The Versatile Travel Shoe

Marks-Crocs-Footwear-Title Mark’s Crocs Footwear: The Versatile Travel Shoe

CROCS TRAVEL SHOES

Crocs are the world leader in casual, innovative footwear for men, women, and children. You’ll find them all over the world; they’re sold in 90 countries. Since 2002, Crocs has sold 350 million pairs of shoes. Not only can you bring your favourite pair of Crocs along with you for the holidays, but there’s a good chance you’ll be able to find a pair on the go.

If you’re traveling to the cottage for the weekend, Crocs are ideal to wear on a boat ride around the lake or a trip to the beach. Transition easily between walking, riding a bike, hopping into a kayak, or wherever your adventures take you.

Taking a city break? Slip on your Crocs as they’re lightweight and comfortable for walking all over town. When I’m visiting a new city, I enjoy exploring on my own two feet and I need a shoe that won’t hurt my feet by the end of the day.

I’m the kind of person that always says yes to adventure. With the proper footwear, you’ll always be prepared for any scenario on your travels.

Marks-Crocs-Footwear-Title Mark’s Crocs Footwear: The Versatile Travel Shoe

Marks-Crocs-Footwear-Title Mark’s Crocs Footwear: The Versatile Travel Shoe

Marks-Crocs-Footwear-Title Mark’s Crocs Footwear: The Versatile Travel Shoe

Marks-Crocs-Footwear-Title Mark’s Crocs Footwear: The Versatile Travel Shoe

TRAVEL WITH CROCS FROM MARK’S

Check out Mark’s Crocs footwear collection for your perfect pair of Crocs travel shoes.

Which shoes would you most enjoy wearing and why? Be sure to hop over to my Instagram, @justinpluslauren, to check out my latest photos featuring Crocs. In one of those photos, tag a friend who you think would love a pair of Crocs, and follow both the @Crocs and @MarksCanada accounts for a chance to win a $100 Mark’s Canada gift card!

Thank you so much to our partners, Mark’s Canada and Crocs for asking us to review these shoes. Our opinions, as always, are entirely our own.

Marks-Crocs-Footwear-Title Mark’s Crocs Footwear: The Versatile Travel Shoe

PIN this image to your Pinterest for future reference.

Which Crocs shoes would you most enjoy wearing for travel and weekend getaways?

Huntsville Hiking: Land Trust of North Alabama Three Caves

Huntsville-Hiking-Title Huntsville Hiking: Land Trust of North Alabama Three Caves

Huntsville hiking is possible with trails right near the city!

Finding green space is easy in Huntsville, Alabama. I’m used to driving far outside any city limits to go hiking, in order to be surrounded by nature. In Huntsville, you won’t have to search very far for the forest. In fact, the trails aren’t far from the downtown core.

When I visited Huntsville for TBEX, the travel blog conference, I had the option to take a day trip somewhere in the city. These “pre-BEX” excursions are to familiarize bloggers with the destination, and there are a wide variety for every interest and writing niche. As I adore outdoor adventures and eco-friendly tours, I opted to go hiking. Little did I know that the hiking trails were right in the city of Huntsville!

Our small group of hiking enthusiasts met with experienced guides from the Land Trust of North Alabama. On our tour, there was a trail expert from the area, a botanist, and two ornithologists (bird experts/bird watchers). As we hiked along the trail, we stopped at points of interest to discuss the native species of trees, wildflowers, and birds.

On the hike, I was happy to finally meet Ashley of A Southern Gypsy, a longtime online friend through the travel blogging community.

Huntsville-Hiking-Title Huntsville Hiking: Land Trust of North Alabama Three Caves

LAND TRUST OF NORTH ALABAMA

The Land Trust of North Alabama provides the public with seven nature preserves in the Huntsville region. These preserves are perfect for hiking, biking, and birding. Back in the late 1980s, a community formed Alabama’s first land trust to protect a portion of Monte Sano. Now, the Monte Sano Nature Preserve is a massive 1,107 acres and one of the largest urban nature preserves in the country.

In total, the Land Trust of North Alabama takes care of 6300+ acres of territory. There are over 65 miles of free, public trails throughout ten counties of North Alabama.

Their mission statement:

Reconnecting people with nature and finding a healthy balance between development, as well as the need to protect scenic beauty, critical habitat, and historic places.

Huntsville-Hiking-Title Huntsville Hiking: Land Trust of North Alabama Three Caves

MONTE SANO NATURE PRESERVE

Our group of travel bloggers embarked on this Huntsville hiking adventure. We took a leisurely stroll through a small section of the Monte Sano Nature Preserve. The group started at the Three Caves Loop, moving on to the Alms House Trail, and then hiked a section of the Young Kennedy Trail. We looped around to finish at the Three Caves, near where we started. You can find trail maps of every nature preserve at the Land Trust’s website.

Huntsville-Hiking-Title Huntsville Hiking: Land Trust of North Alabama Three Caves

THE INTRIGUING THREE CAVES

What if I told you that Three Caves isn’t actually a cave at all? It’s a little deceiving. However, it has a very interesting backstory.

Three Caves is a former limestone mine called Hermitage Quarry. While mining efforts were popular here throughout the 1940s, the Hermitage Quarry closed in 1952. It simply became too expensive to operate. Furthermore, the large dust clouds from crushing rocks, as well as the noise from the trucks near the mine was aggravating to Huntsville residents.

In 1989, the quarry was donated to the Land Trust of North Alabama and named “Three Caves”. The Land Trust forged paths around the area and operated summer cave tours. However, there were issues with rocks inside the cave becoming unstable and falling. The interior, unfortunately, closed to the public in 2007.

The quarry bowl is currently used for summer concerts, educational activities, and a popular annual dance.

Interestingly enough, nature is taking over this man-made site. Three Caves now has some qualities of natural caves. It maintains a temperature of 55 degrees Fahrenheit all year long, much like a cave. There are some fast growing formations appearing inside the cave, once thought to take hundreds of years to grow. There are stalactites, stalagmites, and cave pearls. It’s brilliant that this cave is being reclaimed by nature, and it’s constantly evolving to resemble a natural cave.

Huntsville-Hiking-Title Huntsville Hiking: Land Trust of North Alabama Three Caves

Huntsville-Hiking-Title Huntsville Hiking: Land Trust of North Alabama Three Caves

WILDFLOWERS AND GREENERY

As we hiked around, the experts showed us plants to admire…some closer than others!

Even though I’m a frequent hiker, I really don’t know that much about those important leaves…as in, the ones that can hurt you! I’m talking about poison ivy. I’m sure you’ve heard the saying, “leaves of three, let it be.” Yes, but there are some leaves that look just like poison ivy. Virginia creeper, for instance, looks a lot like poison ivy. It has five leaves per stem, but the younger plants might only have three leaves.

Confused yet? If you’re a little confused like me, you probably don’t want to roll around in anything that has three leaves.

Did you know that poison ivy can climb up trees?

Huntsville-Hiking-Title Huntsville Hiking: Land Trust of North Alabama Three Caves

Yep, those leaves are poison ivy. We also saw poison ivy growing in several places on the ground, right beside Virginia creeper.

It’s not all doom and gloom when it comes to the plant world. Actually, it’s quite the opposite of that. We saw so many beautiful plants and trees on our journey through the forest.

And of course, we were on a trip with a bunch of bloggers. When we spotted wildflowers, that particular wildflower had its moment in the spotlight when 10-15 of us all stopped to take photos of it.

Huntsville-Hiking-Title Huntsville Hiking: Land Trust of North Alabama Three Caves

Huntsville-Hiking-Title Huntsville Hiking: Land Trust of North Alabama Three Caves

Huntsville-Hiking-Title Huntsville Hiking: Land Trust of North Alabama Three Caves

ADMIRING THE BEAUTY

Huntsville hiking meant exploring a beautiful forest, just moments from an urban development. You would never know it from these pictures. Here are a few more captures from our nature hike through just one small portion of the Monte Sano Nature Preserve.

Huntsville-Hiking-Title Huntsville Hiking: Land Trust of North Alabama Three Caves

Huntsville-Hiking-Title Huntsville Hiking: Land Trust of North Alabama Three Caves

Huntsville-Hiking-Title Huntsville Hiking: Land Trust of North Alabama Three Caves

Huntsville-Hiking-Title Huntsville Hiking: Land Trust of North Alabama Three Caves

LUNCH AT THREE CAVES

For our pre-BEX tour, the Land Trust of North Alabama arranged lunch at the perfect location – at the bowl of Three Caves. After wearing a tank top all morning, I actually had to put a sweater on. They weren’t kidding about the temperature changing near the caves!

There were tables set up near the mouth of a cave, decorated with sunflowers. We enjoyed a delicious lunch that hit the spot after a morning of hiking. It was a beautiful setting to relax and chat with the organizers and fellow bloggers. I felt truly grateful that I traveled to partake in this Huntsville hiking experience.

Huntsville-Hiking-Title Huntsville Hiking: Land Trust of North Alabama Three Caves

Huntsville-Hiking-Title Huntsville Hiking: Land Trust of North Alabama Three Caves

Huntsville-Hiking-Title Huntsville Hiking: Land Trust of North Alabama Three Caves

Huntsville-Hiking-Title Huntsville Hiking: Land Trust of North Alabama Three Caves

Huntsville-Hiking-Title Huntsville Hiking: Land Trust of North Alabama Three Caves

Huntsville-Hiking-Title Huntsville Hiking: Land Trust of North Alabama Three CavesMy vegan lunch – veggie wrap with salsa and fruit bowl. Huntsville-Hiking-Title Huntsville Hiking: Land Trust of North Alabama Three CavesThere’s even a Land Trust Trail Ale!

GET INVOLVED

The Land Trust of North Alabama hosts events, such as guided hikes, trail clean-ups, concerts, and more. Their popular “Tuesday on the Trail” program runs throughout June and July. It’s an educational series for kids (and adults!) to highlight the unique biodiversity of Alabama. You can also donate to the Land Trust or become a member.

Although my Huntsville hiking experience was limited to a day, I’d love to return sometime and explore more of the region. I know if I lived here, I’d immediately become a member. I’m a member of my local, beloved Bruce Trail, after all!

Check out more photos from my Huntsville hiking experience! Here’s my entire Huntsville Land Trust Hike travel photo album.

Thank you so much to the Land Trust of North Alabama and the TBEX organizers for making this trip happen!

loading map – please wait…

Map could not be loaded – please enable Javascript!
→ more information

Huntsville-Hiking-Title Huntsville Hiking: Land Trust of North Alabama Three Caves

PIN this image to your Pinterest for future reference.

You might also like:

Have you gone hiking in Huntsville or Alabama before? Ever hiked near a city before, and where?

TBEX Huntsville: My Experiences and Reflections

TBEX-Huntsville-TItle TBEX Huntsville: My Experiences and Reflections

My experiences and reflections after attending TBEX Huntsville.

I’ve been back home for a few weeks now after attending TBEX Huntsville, so I’ve had some time to reflect upon the entire experience. Many of you might be thinking, what is TBEX? Why was Lauren in Alabama? Those are excellent questions! Alabama wasn’t exactly at the top of my list of US states to visit. However, now that I’ve visited, I’m itching to go back and explore more of this great state.

First, TBEX stands for Travel Blog Exchange. It’s a conference for travel bloggers to connect, network with tourism boards and brands, attend learning sessions, and visit the host destination on trips (day trips or multi-day familiarization trips). TBEX Huntsville was my second TBEX conference; my first one was in Fort Lauderdale back in 2015. You can read more about my first TBEX in Fort Lauderdale here.

There are TBEX events generally three times a year in various locations around the world. There’s always one in North America, Europe, and an international location.

I have to admit, when TBEX North America was announced, I wasn’t super thrilled that it was going to be in Huntsville, Alabama. After all, what’s so appealing about Huntsville? With that said, it wasn’t terribly far away and I really wanted to attend another TBEX. I booked my plane ticket to Huntsville, booked my hotel stay, booked a pre-BEX hiking tour, and started to look up what I was going to do during my free time before the conference started. I was mostly excited to hang out with some blogging friends and hoped to make some new connections, too.

THE STRESSFUL JOURNEY

My trip to Huntsville didn’t exactly get off to a winning start.

I arrived to the airport very early and got a little work done. My first flight went from Toronto to Washington, D.C., and then Washington to Huntsville. I had a two hour layover at Washington Dulles Airport, which I figured was more than enough time. However, my flight from Toronto was delayed. First, by a half hour. Then, an hour. Then, two hours. We didn’t receive too many answers, other than “a part on the plane needed to be fixed.” The odds that I was going to catch my connecting flight were growing slimmer by the moment.

I looked up the terminal and gate of my connecting flight at Dulles Airport. Terminal A, Gate 2B. I asked an airline employee, “Do you know what terminal we are landing at?”

“No,” he said. “But, I’m sure it will be in the same terminal.”

Finally, we boarded the plane. It was a small, commuter plane. I’ll be perfectly honest with you – the plane looked like it had seen better days. Maybe this was due to the fact that the lights and air conditioning weren’t working.

Our flight attendant assured us that this would be working before the flight started. Our main issue was that the left engine wouldn’t start. We waited longer. Our flight attendant said that the engine had to be started manually from the ground. I’m not quite sure what that meant, but it didn’t sound great.

“GET OFF THE PLANE!”

That was the text I received from Justin after telling him everything. I knew that if they couldn’t start the plane safely, we wouldn’t fly. I was determined to get to Huntsville, so I stayed on the plane.

Finally, the engine started, the lights came on, the air conditioning started up, and we were ready to go.

I was really impressed with the pilots during the flight. While the flight was scheduled originally to be an hour and 20 minutes, we reached Washington in less than 40 minutes!

I kept looking at the time. Was I going to make my next flight? It was tough to tell. The flight attendant allowed me to leave the plane first as it was such a tight connection. Once we landed, I had exactly 15 minutes to get to my connecting flight. I felt a little relieved as that should be enough time, right? When we were safe to leave the plane, I took off like a flash. I raced into the terminal, probably looking like a crazed lunatic.

“What terminal is this?” An employee pointed at the wall. “Terminal Z.”

Of course, I was in a different terminal.

I ran towards the signs for Terminal A. After taking some twists and turns down hallways, I came to a halt at a stop for their “people mover.” You actually have to take a tram between the terminals as they are so far apart. The train for Terminal B showed up, and everyone boarded. I tried to catch my breath after running. Turns out, I had a lot of time to catch my breath. The tram for Terminal A took eight agonizing minutes to arrive.

I leaped off the train at Terminal A and ran for my life. I ran up a flight of stairs, an escalator, and another escalator. Then, I ran down an escalator, and up another escalator. It was almost comical the amount of staircases I had to navigate to get to this damn gate. Finally, I saw the gate numbers. Gate 6, gate 5, gate 4. Then, gate 2F, gate 2E, gate 2D. Why was gate 2 the only one with additional letters, making gate 2B even farther away? I was running, and coughing. I even felt a little vomit start to rise up.

Completely out of breath, I somehow managed to squeak out the word, “Huntsville?” when I reached gate 2B. “This is Syracuse,” a man exclaimed. What? Did I run all that way for nothing? I heard a voice. “Over here!” Boarding hadn’t closed yet for Huntsville. I handed over my boarding pass and walked outside to board the small plane. I made it.

When I arrived in Huntsville, however, my luggage did not make the flight. I filled out the claims forms, and was instructed that my bag would hopefully show up in the next day or two (it did). I was happy that I made it to Huntsville, but I didn’t have my hiking boots for the pre-BEX tour the following morning, and I didn’t have any extra clothes or toiletries.

Thankfully, after texting Ashley (a blogging friend I was set to meet at TBEX), she suggested that I go to Target to replace some of my things as they were open fairly late. That’s exactly what I did. So, I finally got to relax at my hotel with a collection of new toiletries and clothes at about 11:30pm. After that adventure, I was ready for the real adventures to begin at TBEX Huntsville!

TBEX-Huntsville-TItle TBEX Huntsville: My Experiences and Reflections

PRE-BEX TOUR

Every blogger who attends TBEX can book a pre-BEX tour. These tours highlight experiences and activities of the host destination. We had several choices in Huntsville, and I chose to take a hike at the Land Trust of North Alabama. It was amazing to hike in the forest so close to the city itself. Before the hike, I met Ashley of A Southern Gypsy, who turned out to be my TBEX Huntsville partner in crime. Not only did we hike together, but we spent most of the conference together, too.

On the hike, we learned about the native trees and wildflowers. Our small group also enjoyed lunch by three, giant man-made caves in the area.

Read more about this Huntsville hiking trip at the Land Trust of North Alabama: Three Caves.

TBEX-Huntsville-TItle TBEX Huntsville: My Experiences and Reflections

TBEX-Huntsville-TItle TBEX Huntsville: My Experiences and Reflections

EXPLORING HUNTSVILLE

After the hike, I essentially had a day and a half to explore Huntsville, Alabama. Ashley and I partnered up to visit some memorable locations around town. Again, I’ll be writing about these locations in much more detail in the coming days. We were delighted that Huntsville is such a charming, artistic, and welcoming community. From the beloved ducks at the nearby park to the vibrant street art that covered the walls, I quickly fell in love with Huntsville.

TBEX-Huntsville-TItle TBEX Huntsville: My Experiences and Reflections

TBEX-Huntsville-TItle TBEX Huntsville: My Experiences and Reflections

TBEX-Huntsville-TItle TBEX Huntsville: My Experiences and Reflections

Ashley and I walked around downtown Huntsville and explored on our own. All in one city block, we tasted refreshing popsicles from Friso Gourmet Pops (so many flavours…so difficult to choose!), savoured delicious iced coffee at Honest Coffee Roasters, and ate yummy vegan dishes at Pints & Pixels. After our meal, we played numerous pinball machines and arcade games that lined the walls of the establishment.

TBEX-Huntsville-TItle TBEX Huntsville: My Experiences and Reflections

TBEX-Huntsville-TItle TBEX Huntsville: My Experiences and Reflections

TBEX-Huntsville-TItle TBEX Huntsville: My Experiences and Reflections

TBEX-Huntsville-TItle TBEX Huntsville: My Experiences and Reflections

EXPLORING EVEN MORE OF HUNTSVILLE

The next day, we visited the Huntsville Botanical Gardens for a peaceful stroll among the flowers and the trees. We saw various gardens, dazzling blooms, and even a dinosaur or two? Stay tuned for a more detailed blog post! We managed to see the entire place just before it started to pour rain.

TBEX-Huntsville-TItle TBEX Huntsville: My Experiences and Reflections

Next, an ideal rainy day activity…a trip to Lowe Mill! It’s a former textile mill turned into a complex of art studios. It’s a creative environment with studio space for artists and makers. Members of the public can explore the Mill to learn, create, and shop.

Ashley and I also enjoyed a comforting and savoury vegan lunch from a food truck parked outside of Lowe Mill, Chef Will The Palate. I highly recommend trying the southern plate – it was yummy!

TBEX-Huntsville-TItle TBEX Huntsville: My Experiences and Reflections

TBEX-Huntsville-TItle TBEX Huntsville: My Experiences and Reflections

HUNTSVILLE AS THE HOST DESTINATION

I was thoroughly impressed with Huntsville’s hosting efforts for TBEX. It seemed like the entire city knew about TBEX and how important it was to host hundreds of bloggers in the city. There were TBEX decals in every storefront window, and TBEX logos projected onto buildings. Even my hotel, the Embassy Suites, had a giant TBEX logo in the lobby that you could see going up the elevator.

It was very convenient to stay at the Embassy Suites. Not only was the hotel close to everything in town, but it was connected directly to the Von Braun Center by a hallway. This meant that I could walk directly from my room to the conference without even having to go outside.

I could tell that was so much care that went into planning TBEX in Huntsville. The entire conference went so smoothly. I was wowed by the venues, the parties, and the enthusiasm of the local tourism boards and the locals I met around town. Southern hospitality is real, and you’ll find it in Huntsville.

OPENING NIGHT PARTY

TBEX officially kicked off with the opening night party. Every night, there was a party for TBEX attendees, and we were always spoiled by the venues of Huntsville. At A.M. Booth’s Lumberyard, we enjoyed local beer, photo opportunities, and tasty treats. There was live music and eight different rooms with various restaurants and bars.

The best part of the parties? Meeting new people and hanging out with old friends. It’s a welcoming environment where you can approach and talk to anyone. My favorite part of TBEX, even since my first TBEX in Fort Lauderdale, is connecting with like-minded people and forming long-term friendships.

TBEX-Huntsville-TItle TBEX Huntsville: My Experiences and ReflectionsMaking new friends! Crystal, Skye, me, and Ashley. TBEX-Huntsville-TItle TBEX Huntsville: My Experiences and ReflectionsReconnecting with long-term friends, Chris and Heather! TBEX-Huntsville-TItle TBEX Huntsville: My Experiences and ReflectionsOur bartender friends from Pints & Pixels…who also worked behind the bar at the Lumberyard for the TBEX party!

GETTING DOWN TO BUSINESS AT TBEX

One of the main components of TBEX are the learning sessions. Over the next two days, I attended sessions led by industry experts that spanned a variety of topics in social media, business, blogging tips, and more.  I feverishly jotted down notes and soaked up as much information as I could. Some of the sessions I attended were:

  • Taking your writing from side hustle to full time job
  • Affiliate marketing techniques
  • Live streaming on social media
  • Everything you need to know about SEO

It’s actually funny – during my first TBEX, I found that most of the sessions were geared towards beginner bloggers and I didn’t get much out of them. This time around, there were still sessions for the beginners. But, there were sessions geared towards people like me, who have been blogging for a while. I actually learned way more this time around, two years later, than I did at my first TBEX.

SPEED NETWORKING

One of the most important components of TBEX are the speed networking sessions. These are quick, 10-minute meetings with brands and tourism boards who are looking to partner with bloggers. Armed with my elevator pitch and lots of energy (perhaps from the coffee I was drinking all day), I successfully networked with 24 different tourism boards and brands during speed networking.

I booked all of my speed networking meetings ahead of time. As for the few that I didn’t manage to meet during the scheduled times, there were many other opportunities to approach their tables for a chat. I highly recommend taking advantage of the speed networking meetings, or simply approach the representatives on your own.

KEYNOTE SPEAKERS

Every day started with an inspiring keynote speech by a notable, even famous, person in the travel industry. Bruce Poon Tip of G Adventures inspired us with how he started his adventure travel company business, and continues to grow that business today. TV personality Samantha Brown presented a spirited speech with her many years of travel stories and expertise. And TBEX ended with a brilliant closing speech by Bret Love of Green Global Travel, who showed us that it is possible to live the dream, earning a living as a travel blogger.

PARTYING BENEATH A ROCKET

After a busy day at sessions and speed networking, it was time for another party. For this event, we were transported to the US Space & Rocket Center, best known for its space camp. We dined beneath the Saturn 5 rocket. Then, we went on a tour of the facilities at our own pace. This even included going on a ride outdoors where we were shot up into the air, enjoying a weightless sensation up there! It was thrilling and a little terrifying. I screamed a lot.

TBEX-Huntsville-TItle TBEX Huntsville: My Experiences and Reflections

TBEX-Huntsville-TItle TBEX Huntsville: My Experiences and Reflections

TBEX-Huntsville-TItle TBEX Huntsville: My Experiences and Reflections

TBEX-Huntsville-TItle TBEX Huntsville: My Experiences and Reflections

TBEX-Huntsville-TItle TBEX Huntsville: My Experiences and Reflections

TBEX-Huntsville-TItle TBEX Huntsville: My Experiences and ReflectionsSomeone put their pup into this space suit…for the world’s cutest astronaut!

After our party at the US Space and Rocket Center, Ashley and I toured around to some local bars, thanks to our “tour guide”, Andrew (an Alabama native, representing Red Diamond Coffee). We visited a boisterous karaoke bar, and a packed local pub. It was awesome to experience where the locals hang out on a Friday night.

CLOSING NIGHT PARTY

While I’m on the topic of parties, the closing night party was perhaps the best of all. At Campus No. 805, a former middle school had been transformed into craft breweries, restaurants, retail shops, and an arcade.

When Heather, Ashley, and I realized that one of the retail shops was a hair salon that promised 80s-inspired makeovers for everyone, we headed there first. Soon enough, my hair was teased and there was a big scrunchie in it. I had neon eye shadow added to my face, as well as bright pink lipstick. The three of us strutted around with our new poofy hair and loud makeup. While Chris (blogs with Heather at A Brit And A Southerner) couldn’t be convinced to get an 80s makeover of his own, he became our photographer for a very sassy photo shoot.

TBEX-Huntsville-TItle TBEX Huntsville: My Experiences and Reflections

Back at the former middle school, we were shown how to reach the “secret” speakeasy….by pulling on a set of lockers to reveal a hidden room! I suppose the secret is out now. That’s what happens when you invite a bunch of bloggers somewhere!

TBEX-Huntsville-TItle TBEX Huntsville: My Experiences and Reflections

TBEX-Huntsville-TItle TBEX Huntsville: My Experiences and Reflections

TBEX-Huntsville-TItle TBEX Huntsville: My Experiences and ReflectionsA very generous local man bought us all beer!

TBEX-Huntsville-TItle TBEX Huntsville: My Experiences and Reflections

TBEX-Huntsville-TItle TBEX Huntsville: My Experiences and ReflectionsAndrew from Red Diamond Coffee, who always had many “fun facts” for us about Huntsville TBEX-Huntsville-TItle TBEX Huntsville: My Experiences and ReflectionsOur new friend, local fictitious map artist, David Nuttall

UPCOMING TBEX EVENTS

I was so inspired by TBEX Huntsville that I came home and immediately booked my ticket to TBEX Ireland in October! I also booked my ticket to the next international TBEX in Zimbabwe, which will happen in July 2018. I can’t wait to reconnect with friends that I made at the past two TBEX North America events, and it will be fantastic to meet even more people.

TBEX has really inspired me to keep working on this blog. I want to write more, build my blog, connect even more over social media, and perhaps even transform this into my full time gig one day. Who knows? I feel like after attending TBEX, the possibilities are endless!

Do you want to see more photos from TBEX and everything I did in Huntsville? Check out my Alabama travel photo albums!

TBEX Huntsville

loading map – please wait…

Map could not be loaded – please enable Javascript!
→ more information

TBEX-Huntsville-TItle TBEX Huntsville: My Experiences and Reflections

PIN this image to Pinterest for future reference.

You might also like:

Have you ever attended TBEX? Have I met you at a TBEX event? Stop by and say hello in the comments below!

Jackson Hole Summer Adventures You Must Experience

Jackson-Hole-Title Jackson Hole Summer Adventures You Must Experience

Jackson Hole is the ultimate destination for adventure this summer!

Looking for a new holiday spot this summer? If you love spending time outdoors, whether you’re seeking wildlife or marveling at the beauty of nature, consider Jackson Hole for your next vacation. I’ve compiled a list of the best Jackson Hole summer adventures that will satisfy those who enjoy a relaxing journey and the thrill-seekers in the crowd. Best of all, there are numerous vacation rentals in Jackson Hole so you can return to a luxurious space after a day of exploring.

ABOUT JACKSON HOLE

Jackson Hole is a valley in Wyoming, between the Gros Ventre Range and the Teton Range. In the winter, the region is very popular for skiing. In fact, Jackson Hole is ranked as the #1 Best Ski Destination in the United States, according to the U.S. News and World Report.

During the summer months, the national parks are the main attractions, including Yellowstone National Park and Grand Teton National Park. The Snake River weaves throughout the whole valley, from Yellowstone in the north to the Snake River Canyon in the south.

Jackson-Hole-Title Jackson Hole Summer Adventures You Must Experience

Photo Credit: Jeff Gunn

 

SUMMER ACTIVITIES IN JACKSON HOLE

While the region is renowned for its magnificent ski resorts, there are many opportunities for Jackson Hole summer adventures, too. Whether you’re savoring moments of tranquility or climbing the highest peaks, here are some ways to stay and play in this dazzling outdoor playground.

GO HIKING

Whether it’s a short hike or an all day affair, strap on those hiking boots and hit the trails. It’s best to wear layers as the temperatures will vary according to the altitude. As with any hike, it’s a good idea to bring lots of water, bug spray, snacks like trail mix or granola bars, and of course, your camera. For added protection, you should bring bear spray, a first aid kit, and a headlamp in case you hike a little later than you anticipated.

You’ll find some of the most rewarding hikes in Grand Teton National Park. Even those who aren’t in the greatest shape will be able to conquer the easier hikes with a flatter terrain. I recommend you check out the Leigh Lake Shoreline, which offers spectacular views of Mount Moran beyond a sparkling lake.

For a moderate hike, follow the Jenny Lake trail head where you’ll discover Hidden Falls, a beautiful waterfall. The Lake Creek and Woodland Trail Group at the Laurance S. Rockefeller Preserve provides a variety of views as the path winds through forests, meadows, and by the shores of Phelps Lake.

Jackson-Hole-Title Jackson Hole Summer Adventures You Must Experience

Photo Credit: Ale Granholm

SCENIC DRIVES

Don’t feel like hiking, but still want to admire the sensational scenery? Consider taking a scenic drive around Jackson Hole. Along the eight-mile Moose Wilson Road, just outside of Teton Village, you’re guaranteed to spot wildlife. The Inner Park Loop Road runs through Grand Teton National Park for 20 miles, where you can gawk at the towering mountain ranges. Travel along the Kelly Loop at sunrise or sunset to watch herds of bison roam along this 16-mile circle.

AN AMERICAN SAFARI

Speaking of wildlife, Jackson Hole has no shortage of that! Go on an American ‘safari’ as you try to spot the wide variety of animals that live in the area. You might stumble upon moose, wolves, elk, or even a grizzly bear. It’s also a paradise for bird-watching, so get out the binoculars and your birding guide to identify them.

WATER ACTIVITIES

With many lakes and rivers, Jackson Hole has just as many adventures on water as it does on land. Try standup paddleboarding, canoeing, or kayaking to float and glide across calm lakes. For something more exciting, embark on an exhilarating whitewater rafting excursion at the Snake River Canyon. For a rejuvenating experience, visit the Granite Hot Springs Pool to soak and relax.

Jackson-Hole-Title Jackson Hole Summer Adventures You Must Experience

Photo Credit: Jeff Gunn

 

GO BIKING

Jackson Hole has a collection of paved bike trails called Pathways that run between Jackson, Wilson, Teton Villages, and the Grand Teton National Park. Pathways is an excellent choice for those seeking a more relaxed ride. For mountain biking, Grand Targhee and Jackson Hole Mountain Resort offer trails that are accessible by lifts running up the mountain. The Teton Pass trails have huge jumps for adrenaline junkies. Jackson Hole is a world-class biking destination, and there are many shops where you can buy and rent bikes to hit the trails.

MOUNTAIN CLIMBING

Going mountain climbing is an epic adventure, so here’s your chance to climb the Grand Teton. There’s nothing like ascending to the top of a mountain to obtain a massive personal achievement. Check mountain climbing off your bucket list and make it happen in Jackson Hole.

AERIAL ADVENTURES

There are so many ways to appreciate Jackson Hole from above. Ride the tram known as “Big Red” from the base of Jackson Hole Mountain Resort to the top of Rendezvous Mountain. You’ll travel over 4000 feet vertically! For incredible views of the town of Jackson and the Tetons, ride the scenic chairlift to the top of Snow King Mountain. The Bridger Gondola will transport you for free to an observation deck at the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort for Happy Hour.

If you want to soar like a bird above the valley, consider going paragliding in Jackson Hole. You’ll literally run off the side of the mountain, but you’ll be strapped to a tandem paraglider with a seasoned pilot who will navigate you safely to the ground below.

Other ways to experience Jackson Hole from above include hot air ballooning and flying in a small plane or glider.

SOAK UP THE SUNSETS

Get your cameras ready for those Instagram perfect pictures! Jackson Hole has some of the most gorgeous summer sunsets imaginable. Watch the sun go down at the Mormon Row Historical District to capture the vibrant sky as a backdrop to Moulton Barn, Wyoming’s most photographed barn. Other beautiful places for sunsets include Curtis Canyon, Jenny Lake, and the top of Signal Mountain.

 

Jackson-Hole-Title Jackson Hole Summer Adventures You Must Experience

PIN this image to your Pinterest for future reference.

 

You might also like:

Have you visited Jackson Hole before? Have I inspired you to travel there?

The post Jackson Hole Summer Adventures You Must Experience appeared first on Justin Plus Lauren.