The California Coastline is renowned for its spectacular cliffs, rocky outcroppings, pebble beaches, black sand beaches, lighthouses, Redwood forests, and waterfalls plummeting off cliffs onto Sandy beaches below.
The Sonoma Coast State Park in Sonoma County has most of these things and more. If you start at Bodega Bay and drive north, you will find most stops than you can make in one day…or even three (I just finished my third visit this month!).
Its only just over 1.5 hours north of San Francisco and well worth the day trip. From the quaint little resort town of Bodega Bay you head north stopping to see numerous waterfalls rushing over 50 feet over the cliff’s edges onto the sand below. I imagine all the rain we’ve been getting has greatly improved the quality of these waterfalls. The hills slope away from the beaches behind and are dotted with sturdy trees and covered in green grass.
A pull off not far north brings you to Arched Rock, an amazing arch out in the ocean perpetually pummeled by gargantuan waves.
A few miles father and you reach my favorite spot: Goat Rock State Beach. Here you can turn down a poorly maintained narrow road that leads down to the beach itself and allows you to park feet from the waves. To the right is the Russian River, powerful and flooded at my last visit, spilling muddied water into the Pacific Ocean, changing its color for miles. To the left is another beautiful arched rock and some of the most spectacular sunset watching I’ve seen in California.
Continue across the Russian River north through Jenner, CA and you will find several small pull-off with hidden trails leading to secret beaches. My favorite one, not more than a mile north of Jenner, has ropes leading down the embankment to help you climb down to a spectacular pebble beach below. If you make it safely down, hike to the right, following the beach to a huge rocky outcropping where waves splash 30 feet or more over impressive boulders, drenching the rocks below and you if you get too close (Yes of course I got to close).
The vast majority of people I know stay in hotels when they travel. I just finished a road trip across America where I stayed in hotels nearly the entire way. I thoroughly enjoyed all but one of my stays and rarely paid over $50/night.
Hotels are often overlooked by budget travelers. But if you aren’t stuck on a certain brand or “star” rating for a hotel and you aren’t traveling alone, hotels can quite often be your best bet.
There is nothing wrong with 2 star budget hotels. I’m always shocked to see these fellow travel bloggers who frequently stay in 4 and 5 star hotels and honestly can’t help but believe they must be sponsored to stay there. The difference in quality between a good 2-star hotel and a 4 or 5 star hotel is rarely worth the quadruple or more price difference.
I like to value hotels with the law of diminishing returns. Once your base, minimum need are met, the law of diminishing returns states that for the more your invest the less you will get on that return. In other words, you may get something that is an 8 out of 10 for $80 but have to pay $100 more to get a 9 out of 10 and $200 more to get a 10! Is it really worth it?
If money is not an issue, if you aren’t on a budget, if spending a $1000 doesn’t feel much different than buying a coffee: than why the hell are you reading this 🙂 You don’t need to worry. But if you are on a budget, get a clean two star option and be happy with it!
How do I find good deals? I use Orbitz and Skyscanner to search for the best priced hotels in the area. Why both? Skyscanner is good because it searches nearly every single site for the best deal and has certain search options (like total price for entire week’s stay) that other sites don’t offer. However, I often find that an individual search on Orbitz will give me special deals and options that Skyscanner apparently doesn’t have access to.
Why Orbitz? I picked a travel site and stuck with it. There are so many who all claim they are better than the next but essentially offer the same deals or are even the same business. Orbitz and Expedia are the same for example with different rewards programs and page colors.
When selecting a budget hotel, I check out the photos and look for ones that appear recently remodeled in ALL the photos (often they remodel just one room, showing a few photos of that one room, giving the impression of a full remodel. However further investigation will show the rest of the hotel looks old and nasty). Next, I look at the amenities and make sure they are reasonable and standard. Most budget hotels offer free breakfast and parking with wifi as well. Finally, I read a few recent reviews and look for hotels that generally have a 75% recommendation rate or better. Reading a few reviews is helpful if you really want to be thorough. Sometimes a hotel has bad ratings (and therefore perhaps cheaper prices) because a few demanding, unreasonable, people stayed in a 2 star hotel hoping for a 5 star experiences. You can quickly tell by their reviews that they are reviewing a Kia with Mercedes standards.
Another option is to use HotWire. This website will give you phenomenal deals on hotels which are given a star-rating, a specified neighborhood on a map, and a customer review rating without specifying the exact hotel. Somehow this allows them to give you a better deal. And sometimes it really is an exceptional deal.
I’ve stayed in brand new Motel 6’s with chic Ikia style furnishings, hardwood floors, 50 inch TV’s, and clean comfy beds for under $50/night. I once got a 3.5-star hotel in an excellent location in Paris for $60/night. I’ve stayed in 4-star boutique hotels in Washington DC and San Francisco for about $90/night. I like hotels that offer a free breakfast and 24 hour check in as that eliminates time constraints and allows me to get some quick food on my stomach before the days adventures.
What I like most about hotels is the impersonal aspect of them. If you are just trying to spend some time alone, some time with someone special, or engage with a very particular group hotel’s allow your interactions with others to remain impersonal and distant. They also often offer a higher level of security than other options. Clean towels every day, fresh sheets, and bathrooms essentials as needed are also nice bonuses.
So now you have the right gear, you’ve learned how to set up your camera just right, and you found the perfect spot, with the perfect lighting, at just the right time of day, and you nailed it. You got that perfect, amazing photo you’ve always been wanting.
What next? How do you edit it?
For Instagram, I edit almost all my photos on my phone. I am just now getting into more professional editing through Adobe Lightroom on my laptop which I will cover later.
I have an Android phone (Samsung Galaxy S7) and I edit nearly all of my Instagram photos on this phone including ones taken with my DSLR. I use two apps: Snapseed for basic editing, quick fixes, and dramatic effect; and Lightroom Mobile for more detailed work.
Snapseed is a free photo editing tool now owned by Google and essentially their response to VSCO. While VSCO focuses on softer light and quieter tones, Snapseed seems to excel on bold, deep, dramatic edits especially the very popular HDR.
HDR stands for High Dynamic Range imaging and in short tries to emulate to depth of field and clarity seen by the naked eye (with perfect vision). Snapseed has its own adjustable preset HDR filter but also excels at allowing you to create a custom “HDR” setting with their basic manual editing mode.
Snapseed also includes selective mode (select a color on the photo and adjust it), brush mode (use a brush to adjust hues, contrast, exposure, etc), healing mode (“heal” or fix blemishes on your photo), vignette mode (create a vignette or reverse vignette), and more.
Besides HDR, Snapseed offers Drama (dramatic darker HDR effects), Glamour Glow (good for smoothing out faces and skin or creating a mystical slightly blurred effect), Tonal Contrast (adjust specific tones such as lights or darks), and numerous more specific filters (which I never use).
I can edit a photo on Snapseed in about 30-60 seconds most of the time.
Quality is average but by no means perfect. You can clearly see the difference when the photo is blown up to high-resolution compare to one edited on Lightroom.
Update: Snapseed now offers Facial filters, White Balance adjustment, and Text!
Adobe now offers Lightroom Mobile free of charge on Android. This is an amazingly powerful app, nearly as good as the full version of Lightroom itself. It does lack a few key tools such as spot remover (Snapseed to the rescue?), but overall is about as complete a tool as one could possibly need for their phone.
Lightroom allows you to import as many photos as you want and edit them in the program without actually saving a copy of the edited photo unless prompted. My guess is that the app simply saves your adjustments as a sort of mask for the original photo, compiling them into an entirely new .jpg image upon saving. This results in far higher quality even with extensive editing then is allowed by Snapseed.
Lightroom has 6 primary modes: Basic, Tone Curve, Vignetting, Split Toning, Color/Black and White, and Dehaze.
Basic covers all your basic and primary needs including White Balance, Temperature, Tint, Exposure, Contrast, Highlights, Shadows, Whites, Blacks, Clarity, Vibrance, and Saturation with an Auto Tone setting as well. With just basic I can do 90% of all my editing.
Tone Curve adjusts the hologram for the image with primary color adjustments or focusing on highlights, lights, darks, and shadows. A bit more advance, it does offer far more specific adjustments than basic and is useful if you can’t get that exact lighting you want with the simpler settings.
Vignetting is fairly self explanatory and does what it should do.
Split Toning is something I haven’t messed with much but its supposed to do what the full desktop version of Lightroom does with Gradients. This is useful if you have an overly bright sky and darker landscape for example.
Color/Black and White adjusts specific black and white settings or specific colors. Lets supose you want to bring out a blue sky. You can adjust the saturation and Luminance (essentially brightness) of all the blue hues in the photo individually without turning up the saturation for everything else. Options include Hue, Saturation, and Luminance in 8 colors each.
Dehaze is one of my favorite options. This setting allows you to increase or decrease the “haze” effect created by the atmosphere as objects increase in distance from the camera. It does tend to make the photo overly blue if overused, but can create quite a nice bold dramatic effect that I can’t normally emulate with just the basic settings.
Lightroom takes me much longer to edit in. Partly because I haven’t developed any presets yet (yes it has a preset option for customizable settings!!!) and partly because I lack the skill at knowing exactly what needs adjusting in my photos. I’d guess about 3-5 minutes per photo.
Update: Lightroom now offers Lens Correction!
So there you have it. The two apps I use for just about every photo on my Instagram. Go check them out and tell my what you think. What apps do you use? What settings? Any tips?
Airbnb is a similar concept to staying with friends and family except you are staying with strangers. You can often get the whole place to yourself which is a huge plus. Prices are economical especially if you look hard enough. I recently stayed in a lofted apartment in Austin Texas, 2 miles from downtown, with free parking, for $50/night. Since this was split between two people, it was right at my $25/night budget and extremely private and convenient. I have rented shared spaces for even less.
There are basically 3 types of Airbnb options, shared spaces, private rooms, and entire dwellings. Shared spaces are most like hostels. Maybe a couch, a shared bedroom, or some other public room in the house. You will probably share the bathroom with at least one other person and hopefully get a share of the kitchen.
Private rooms allow you your own private bedroom while not necessarily guaranteeing that anything else is private. Sometimes you can find one that at least has its own bathroom giving you an equivalent to a hotel in privacy minus the sound proof walls 😉
When you rent an entire place you are taking over someone’s entire home. This may be a small loft for two people or a huge 5 bedroom house (I’ve don’t both depending on the group I’m traveling with). I planning a trip to Iceland with several other couples in a large 5 bedroom house with lots of living space, parking, hot tub, and a huge kitchen, that’s going to cost us about $35/person per night. I think that’s a steal given what we are getting. I’ve gotten private rooms in Portugal as cheap as $26/night.
Airbnb is great in the US and more expensive European countries. Its often more personal the hotel and certainly can be much more private than a hostel or staying with friends. The main drawbacks include having to work with someone else’s schedule to check in and perhaps the lack of standards the hotel industry is supposed to have.
When solo traveling, hostels may still be cheaper if you are looking for a bare bones budget, but with two or more, Airbnb is often your cheapest and best bet.
Traveling where you have friends and family nearby is probably one of the most economical ways to find lodging. Your aunt lives in NYC and invites you to stay for a few days. You can have the spare bedroom. Most likely some meals. All free.
However be careful, she may be expecting you to babysit so her and husband can have a night on the town. I think staying with people works best if either you guys have the same agenda for the time you are together OR you have completely opposite schedules and they are simply offering you a place to sleep.
When I first started traveling, I primarily traveled where my friends and family were and stayed with them. It was a good way to start on a college kid’s budget.
Eventually I moved to more solo travel. Staying where I wanted to go and normally traveling alone.
Now, I find that I prefer to travel with people. And then find our own housing. I love my friends and my family and am thankful for all the times so many of them have hosted me. But the freedom of having your own place if hard to beat.
If you want to just spend time with that friend or family member, by all means stay with them. Or if your budget requires you to find a free place, by all means go for it. But if you desire ultimate freedom this may not be your best option.
How do I afford housing while I am traveling? Especially when I am usually paying rent on at least one place in the US during the same time?
One of the first places I look when friends complain about not being able to afford travel, is at how much they spend on hotels. I rarely spend more than $25/per person per night when traveling. And yet I see people who will literally spend $300/night on a weekend in LA and who can’t seem to understand how I travel so much more than they do. If I spent that much per night traveling, I honestly don’t think I could afford more than 3 weeks a year if that!
I’ll be honest, I don’t need anything super fancy when I travel. I don’t find that the return on investment is usually worth it. Most of the things I want to do don’t involve the place I am lodging in. I’m not one to spend hours relaxing at a resort.
But I also like my privacy. I’ve done the bunk beds. I’ve done the couches. They work for a time. But they aren’t my favorite option. I prefer a bit of relatively clean place to unwind at the end of the night.
Thus most of my suggestions focus on this niche: people who want to travel economically, who want some privacy, who want something clean, but nothing fancy, nothing over the top, no extra champagne perks if you will.
There are basically five ways to stay when traveling: hotels, hostels, Airbnb, Camping, and with friends or family. If course there are more which I will briefly cover, but these are the primary ones that I use. Let me explain how I use each one to its fullest potential in the following articles which I will post over the next few weeks! Stay tuned 🙂
Norway has a ton of exciting places to visit that I haven’t had the time to see yet. Like the tallest mountain in the country which apparently has an ice tube carved into it by adventurous climbers where you can literally slide down the mountain once your reach the top. Or what about the famous rock left balancing between two cliffs overhanging a fjord (Kjeragbolten)? Even Pulpit Rock, which is often super crowded, is supposed to be an amazing site to see. But guess what? It was covered in fog when I spent 4 whole hours strenuously climbing to the top and I didn’t get to see a damn thing!
The following destinations are all nearby to Flåm, a popular tourist and vacation spot on Norway’s largest fjord just a few hours away from Bergen.
Stalheimskleiva is a scenic spot on a narrow winding mountain pass near Flam Norway. The valley below is green and fertile with innumerable waterfalls flowing off the sides and grassy farmland filling the middle. This was one of my favorite views in all of Norway that did not involve a Fjord. To get here you have to leave the main highway which tunnels under the mountain before resurfacing in the valley. You will also get stunning views of Stalheimsfossen (126 meter horsetail waterfall) and Sivlefossen. At the bottom of the hill there is a small parking area and some hiking trails which I’m sure are beautiful although I haven’t done them yet myself.
Continue following the main road (E16) for another couple of kilometers and you will come to Kjelfossen, one of Norway’s tallest waterfalls. This photo hardly does it justice but I thought the clouds midway up made the scene absolutely epic. The falls is approximately 755 meters tall or 2,477 feet tall. Apparently it is a popular ice climbing destination in Norway. The entire area is breath-taking and to the east is a harbor for the ferry to Flam. Or if you prefer you can take the E16 as I did.
Stegastein is a view-point overlooking the part of the Sognefjorden fjord where Flam is. This fjord is the largest in Norway and the second largest in the world and is absolutely beautiful. You must see it and this is one of the best viewpoints. In fact all along this road are numerous overlooks and pull outs to get a better idea of the land’s beauty.
All three of these sites can be seen and enjoyed in a single day trip from Bergen as we did this summer with time to spare.