Introducing “Simply Adventure” – Reinventing the art of adventure in 2013

In May 2011, Niko and I embarked on a five-week trip across the country to climb, explore, and gain a new perspective on living. My leg of the journey began along the Atlantic coast in Miami, and together we traveled across mountains, prairies, and forests until reaching the Pacific ocean. After over a month spent living out of my parent’s Pilot, waking up with the rising sun, and spending afternoons splayed out in the sunshine of boulder fields – we returned home entirely changed.

It was quickly realized that we needed more.

We spent the next six months apart, with Niko studying in Tallahassee while I voyaged out on a seven-week solo trip and moved out to Denver for the fall and winter seasons. Upon reuniting, we decided our lives were better spent together – but that togetherness had a purpose.

We were built for a life of adventure.

And so, the plans began to form for a yearlong trip across the entire length America. At first, we dubbed it “The 2013 Trip,” but this epic journey deserved a more proper name – and thus, Simply Adventure was born. 

What are we doing?

We’re two perfectly regular people, proving that adventure is within anyone’s reach – all you have to do is choose a trail and follow it. We’re selling everything we own, buying a used van and building a home on wheels, simplifying our needs, and traveling America to discover everything that the land of the free has to offer. Our strongest passion is climbing, and through our journey we plan to support and advocate for local climbing communities and organizations. We also want to revive a love for living locally, focusing on local eateries and farmers markets.

Why are we doing this?

The common thread in all of our passions? The land.  We’re going to spread an appreciation for the unrivaled nature that sprawls across our country, and we hope to inspire others to embrace the values of land stewardship, conservation, and taking full advantage of what the outdoors has to offer. Whether it’s working to ensure access to a climbing crag in Tennessee, or supporting local farmers in California, we want to give back to communities who love the land.

We also want to demonstrate that what we’re doing isn’t some special journey reserved for a handful of folks daring enough to break free. Simply Adventure is a journey for EVERYONE. This experience is accessible to anyone – and we want you to come along for the ride. We hope to inspire you to forge you own path, dream about your own epic trips, and hit the road towards your adventure.

Where are we going?

Frankly, we want to go everywhere. Our map is still evolving, but we have a rough idea of our seasonal destinations. The adventure begins in January 2013, with a few months of climbing around the southern states to avoid the brutal winter up north. Once spring has sprung, we’ll begin meandering towards the mid-west and Pacific coast. Summertime will be spent in the northwestern region, and across the northernmost states. As the heat resides and the colors of autumn begin to blossom, we’ll follow fall along the northeast, and back down to our beloved southeast. The trip will conclude with a circuit around our favorite southern climbing areas.

For Katie, this trip will be the cherry on top of a lifetime of American travel. With only a handful of state lines left to be crossed, Katie will fulfill her goal of visiting all 50 states by summertime. And Niko? Well, he’s always up for exploring new territory.

So, how can you get involved?

Without you, our trip is meaningless. Simply Adventure is about inspiring, challenging, motivating, and educating others. We want to bring you along during our adventures, and we want to provide everyone with the opportunity to take part in the journey. By sharing our experiences, providing valuable tools and resources, helping local communities, and spreading the good tidings of adventure, we hope to create a new breed of explorers. We want you to adventure.

You can keep up with us through social media, personal contact, the blog, and even joining us during the trip. We’ll be documenting the trip as we go, via The Morning Fresh, and will be collecting material for a series of books, including photography books and a guide for creating your own epic adventure. (Stay tuned for an upcoming Kickstarter to help us fund the dream!)

Check out all the ways to stay in touch with Simply Adventure and The Morning Fresh:

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/SimplyAdventure
Twitter: http://twitter.com/SimplyAdventure
Instagram: http://statigr.am/themorningfresh
Pinterest: http://pinterest.com/themorningfresh/
Yelp: http://simplyadventure.yelp.com

The journey has just begun – and we invite you to travel with us during every step of the way. Updates shall begin flowing, plans will solidify, the dream will inevitably grow, and Simply Adventure will soon come to full fruition. Will you join us for the adventure?

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A Guide to Car-Camping – in Walmart Parking Lots

As any experienced road tripper, climber, or long-term traveler can attest, one of the biggest issues with life on the road is finding a place to rest every night. Between tight budgets, uncertain routes, and evenings spent driving at ungodly hours, there is often a need to find a makeshift place to catch a few hours of sleep.

One of the tried and true traditions of my climbing trips and cross-country excursions is the practice of spending a night (or two) in a Walmart parking lot. I was extremely reluctant and nervous my first time, during which I hardly achieved a few moments of rest. However, after nothing but positive experiences, the sight of a glowing Walmart sign on the side of a highway has become a welcoming landmark.

While Walmart founder Sam Walton has allegedly been quoted in feeling strongly that all travelers should reverie his stores as a destination for safe rest and refuge, there has been a lot of debate surrounding the practice of overnight camping in the parking lots. While I have never been approached during my brief stays, I have heard plenty of stories of people being asked to leave, or told they couldn’t stay.

So, should you spend the night in a Walmart parking lot? I’d say sure, but first, educate yourself on the do’s and don’ts of overnighting at one of these fine American institutions (ha).

What You Should Do:

Depending on your attitude, calling ahead to inquire about a specific location’s overnight policies is the safest course of action. However, if you’ve pulled into a random store in the middle of the night, desperate for sleep – you will likely be fine. Always be discrete. While large campers and RVs are sitting ducks in the parking lot pond, sedans and smaller vehicles have the advantage of blending in fairly well.

A few crucial elements of discretion include parking away from store entrances where shoppers should have priority, keeping your ‘space’ clean, and leaving as early as possible in the morning. Additionally, you should make an effort to give patronage to the place that is giving you a safe place to sleep – buy something. If you just grab a protein shake and cheese stick in the morning, fine. Need to stock up on some camping supplies? Even better – you’ll make the entire car-camping community look good.

Just because Walmarts are generally a secure place to stop for the night doesn’t mean that every location stands equal when it comes to safety. Always be aware of the surrounding neighborhood – a sketchy area equates to a sketchy Walmart parking lot. Be smart. Always keep your keys within reach. I prefer to keep the driver’s seat open and easy accessible, in case there is a need to make a quick getaway.

What You Shouldn’t Do:

*Note: Niko wasn’t actually in a Walmart parking lot in this photo, no worries.

Basically, don’t be that guy. If you roll up to a Walmart at 11 PM, pop open the hatchback, and set up a few chairs around your parking spot while throwing back a few beers – don’t be surprised when you get the boot. Anyone traveling in a non-car rig is should never set-up camp in any conspicuous manner. If security or management approaches you, don’t be disrespectful. It is a privilege to have access to staying overnight, and travelers must remain understanding that some locations have had bad experiences with long-term or disruptive ‘campers.’

Don’t leave a mess. You should be practicing this in all aspects of your adventures, but littering free accommodations is especially offensive. Nothing leaves a bad taste in a manager’s mouth than rude overnighters.

Despite the usually relaxed overnight regulations at most locations, there are some stores that are actively against travelers shacking up in their parking lots. Check out this listing of Walmarts that do not allow overnight stays.

Niko says: “I’ve been crashing in Walmart parking lots ever since I was able to drive — it’s a “simple comfort” for dirtbags. On long nights, you know that just down the road there’s a parking lot where you can grab some munchies, clean up in the 24-hour bathrooms, and shut your eyes for a couple hours. I always crack a window in my car to get some fresh air, and like to stop in the store to grab breakfast before heading out – think of the cost of your milk and cereal as a camping fee.”

If you aren’t bothered by the unavoidable florescent lighting and likelihood of waking up in a sea of cars from Walmart’s morning floods of blue collar customers, pulling into one of their many parking lots provides a great venue for catching some rest before embarking on your next day of adventuring.

Have you ever spent the night in a Walmart parking lot?
Got good any experiences to share? Any bad experiences?
Sound off in the comments and contribute to the conversation!

 

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The inaugural #ATQA Adventure Travel chat recap – “Weekend Adventures”

During this week’s edition of #ATQA Adventure Travel chat on Twitter, we got down and dirty with the idea of weekend adventures. Many travelers are confined to cubicles during the workweek, and live for the moment they can escape the office on Friday afternoon to head out into the backcountry.

What’s even worse, many eager explorers find themselves missing out on the weekly #ATQA chats held every Wednesday at 5 PM (EST) – so after multiple requests from fans, we decided to present a weekly recap of the best tweets from each week’s chat. Check it out, and feel free to leave your thoughts and answers in the comments section!

Q1: How do you stay prepared for spontaneous weekend adventures? 

@KelseyIvey: “a1. I usually have a half un-packed bag sitting around my room from my last trip + my sleeping bags lives in my trunk all summer! #ATQA

@croyle: “A1: By trying to keep my gear in order and ready to go. As a SAR member, I need to have much of the same gear ready. #ATQA”

@overlandnomads: “A1: I keep my vehicle packed and ready for adventure…or zombie attack! #ATQA

Continue reading

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Five Reasons I’m Counting the Days to Overland Expo in Flagstaff, AZ

A few months ago, I began getting involved with a mysterious event called “Overland Expo.” A true novice in the art of overlanding, I was exposed to an event and industry that gave a proper title to the art of what I love to do – traveling the world by vehicle. Sometimes by car, occasionally on my bike, and often by foot. This event is a showcase and gathering of the overlanding community, a wild group of adventurers dedicated to getting out there and experiencing it all.

So why am does my agenda now include a little countdown to the May 18-20th event in Flagstaff? Here are a few reasons, in no particular order:

1. The Adventure of Getting to Flagstaff

While I’ll be in Flagstaff for about full three days, my journey to and from Overland Expo will span across about 9-10 days of road trip travel. I’ll be making the trek solo, and am really looking forward to embarking on another one-woman adventure. To break up the trip a bit, I plan on spending a night in Houston, Texas, to visit a great lady climber friend who recently moved out there from Tallahassee.

Aside from spending time with an old friend, I can’t wait to for a few days spent lonesome in my car. Speaking of cars, this road trip will be extra exciting because I am switching cars with my wonderful sister – which means I get to drive a hybrid Honda Civic across the country. All that gas money I’ll save will inevitably be spent in coffee shops, local breweries, and probably a few pieces of new gear I won’t be able to resist at the expo.

2. Classes, Expert Panels, and Workshops

Don’t even bother reading my hype about the schedule at Overland Expo – check it out for yourself. It delivers a nearly overwhelming amount of enticing events that will keep any adventurer engaged throughout the entire weekend.

My favorite picks? Out of nearly 100 classes, I’m most looking forward to classes like “One-Pan Cooking and Provisioning (no fridge)” with Ara Gureghian, a workshop for cooking healthy meals on the road, a collection of photography and writing sessions, “Keeping Healthy and Happy on the Road,” and the survival for couples course.

3. The Adventure Travel Film Festival

Presented by Austin Vince and Lois Pryce, this edition of the festival is the fourth annual event celebrating an international community of folks who live for the thrill of getting out there. I cannot wait to get educated on the history of adventure, the inspiring stories of those who trek out into the world, and the thrilling experiences they endure and enjoy on the road. Enticing titles like “Above and Beyond Dream,” “Paddle to Seattle,” and “Salt and Gold” are only adding to the hype.

4. Meeting My Fellow Adventurers

Lately, I’ve been internally comparing Overland Expo to an adventurer’s version of Bonnaroo – minus all the substance abuse, ruckus, and dirty bathrooms. In my mind, this gathering is the ultimate meet-up for people who are like me.

Adding to the excitement, I’m going to finally meet a few of the wonderful outdoor people I’ve connected with through Twitter. While co-hosting the #ATQA Adventure Travel Question & Answer chat, I’ve joyously watched as some of my favorite friends have won our weekly giveaway – a day pass to the event. Getting the opportunity to connect with people like Dave Creech (who runs an amazing blog you can check out here) is something I’m really looking forward to taking full advantage of – especially since there have been many promises of whiskey and cigars!

5. Daily Yoga Sessions in the Morning

Does this directly have anything to do with wild outdoor adventures? Arguably not – but I am absolutely smitten on the idea of waking up in the hot abyss of Flagstaff, and starting each day with a refreshing yoga session. I’m no yogi, but I have recently begun embracing yoga as the ultimate way to stretch, warm-up, cool-down, and generally improved my flexibility for my climbing. Even aside from my training efforts on the rock, yoga has been a reviving way to get my blood flowing every day.

And I might also be pretty excited to wrangle Dave and my boss J into joining me for some yoga – purely to giggle at them when they try the downward down. (Fellas, as much as I’d love to laugh at you, I will also be so impressed if you end up whooping my rear end in yoga!)

Bonus Hype – check out this 2012 event preview video!

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hhml-cObSWU&feature=player_embedded]

If you haven’t snagged your pass to Overland Expo, the clock is ticking! Click here to check out event packages, and don’t forget to join us Wednesdays at 5:00 (PM, EST) for the #ATQA Adventure Travel chat for your chance to win a free pass.

I’ll see you all in Flagstaff!

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Five reasons to visit a National Park this weekend

America’s National Parks system is one of the greatest institutions ever created by our country – if you ask me, at least. These sacred slices of our nation’s finest ecosystems and delicate environments are critical to American’s ability to access and enjoy the untouched outdoors.

Any day offers a great excuse to visit a nearby National Park, but certain dates hold a particular perk for patrons – which I’ll dive straight into with the first of my top five reasons to visit a National Park:

1. IT’S FREE!

That’s right – admission fees into National Parks around the country are waived during certain times of the year to provide access for those who may not otherwise be able to make it to the parks. That includes everywhere from to Grand Tetons and Rocky Mountains to the Everglades and Kings Canyon, so no matter which outdoor haven is closest to your hometown, you’ll be able to partake in the free fun.

I’ve been lucky enough to have been a proud National Parks annual pass holder since March 2011, but I can still appreciate the gift of complimentary park admission – I can only imagine how expensive my summer road trip would have been if I had paid entrance fees at every park I visited!

2. Fresh air for your lungs.

If you’re confined within city limits during the workweek like me, you likely reach the weekend with a raging thirst to leave the concrete jungle for some natural surroundings. Making a trip to a National Park offers a fantastic way to escape city life for a while. Spend the day trading in traffic lights and steel skyscrapers for towering trees and exhilarating landscapes. You’ll return home with a renewed vigor, and a newfound itch to make a hasty return trip to your National Park of choice.

3. Watching for wildlife.

National Parks are one of the best places to get in touch with your wild side. Whether you’re an avid birdwatcher, or simply want to spend an afternoon chasing chipmunks after climbing in the Rocky Mountains, America’s National Parks are home to some of the most magnificent creatures on earth. Not to favor fauna over flora, I must also highly recommend that you spend some time getting to know the unique plant-life that thrives in the various terrains at the parks across the nation. Tiny leaves and silky flowers are one of the main reasons a macro-lens is at the top of my must-have list.

4. Bountiful recreation and activities.

While my preferred park activities revolve around climbing, hiking, and photography, there is a bounty of possibilities for active park visitors. Hop aboard a guided tour to better acquaint yourself with a new park, set out on a rafting excursion, or plan a scenic picnic – the options are endless. I always love to stop by park visitor centers to scope out maps and chat with rangers about their favorite things to do and see in the area.

5. Experiencing something new.

Every time I visit a National Park, I am treated to a new and wonderful experience – even if I’ve visited the same spot a dozen times before. Nature is constantly changing, adapting, blooming, and presenting us with gracious chances to appreciate the natural world around us. Some of my favorite moments at National Parks include spending a night at the legendary Camp 4 in Yosemite National Park, watching my crew attempt to summit the Grand Teton in Wyoming, and going on a photographic hunt for alligators in the Everglades.

With so much to be discovered and absorbed right in your own backyard, there’s no excuse not to pay a visit to a National Park this weekend. Free admission fees, recreational activities for every visitor’s lifestyle, and a bevy of outdoor beauty is beckoning for you to come play. Not sure which park to visit? Check out a complete list of all the parks and monuments offering complimentary – and be sure to check out additional dates for 2012 free National Park days.

Want more? Check out these articles about my experiences at National Parks across the country:

– Read about my visit to Gulf Islands National Seashore during a trip to Pensacola, Florida
– Explore my favorite sights and scenes from Yosemite National Park, and check out my favorite all-time climb, Beached Whale (V5) near the Ahwahnee Lodge.
– Discover the vibrant desert hues I photographed during my hike through Arches National Park.

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Officially spilling the beans about my big plans for life as a nomadic traveler

I’ve been hinting at my big announcement for far too long, and honestly, most of my close cohorts already have a strong inkling for what I’m about to declare – what can I say, I have trouble keeping my mouth shut when I’m really excited. You may already know what I’m going to say, but here it is officially:

By the end of 2012, I’m selling everything, packing my bags,
and I’m going to spend 2013 entirely on the road.

Farewell collections of hoarded cleaning and craft supplies. It’ll be into the donation bin for the majority of my overflowing wardrobe. Books, journals, and small boxes filled with travel keepsakes will be stowed away in my childhood room – and anything else that doesn’t fit practically into my new nomadic lifestyle will be sacrificed to the dumpster gods.

Because let’s face it – living like this…
…is totally worth is when you wake up in places like these…
…and spend your days doing this:

So what does this mean for my readers? In addition to the usual mix of local outdoor adventures, climbing trips, and travel exploits, you’ll get to experience the process of planning this yearlong journey with me – which means heaps of budgeting advice, trip planning tips, and peeks at the places I’m dying to visit most.

I hope you’re all feeling as stoked on this new venture as I am, and I can’t wait to take you along for the ride.

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How to pack light and smart – lessons learned from a chronic over-packer

As a seasoned road tripper, my packing skills rely on the presence of multiple nooks and car crannies where I can squirrel away all the non-essential, but I don’t want to be without, items like head lamps, biodegradable wipies, spare pairs of gloves, etc. While preparing to embark on my first airborne adventure in over two years, I came upon the startling realization that I am a chronic over-packer.

But I’m always prepared! On climbing trips, I am the go-to gal for all the random camping ware, spare socks, and mismatched supplies that everyone else leaves at home. My purse is always loaded with everything one could possibly need, and my backpack is the heaviest damn thing to tote on hikes – but I’m always prepared.

The thought of cramming everything that I’m going to need for the next four weeks of traveling into one small suitcase and one carry-on backpack is overwhelming. Thus, as I learn from my own attempts at becoming a smarter packer, I’ll share my pre-trip preparations in hopes of providing the packing tips necessary to help some other over-packing schmuck overcome their compulsion to carry everything.

Let’s Begin: Prepare the packings! Do all your laundry, wash your smelly shoes, sort through your camera equipment, and lay everything you think you’re going to take out on a flat surface, like your bed. Hm, all that junk is never going to fit in your modestly-sized luggage, eh? Here comes the tricky part:

Now get rid of HALF of what you planned on packing.

Don’t worry, this sent me into a panic too. You mean I can’t bring four pairs of leggings, three different pairs of boots, my tri-pod, and fourteen pairs of socks? It’s time to prioritize – and remember that washing machines are available at your destination, so you don’t actually need enough clothes to last through the duration of your travels. It’s time to prioritize, and honestly, when it comes to clothes, this is simply going to help you weed through the ruckus to find your favorite wardrobe items – so take solace in knowing that you may have to do a load or two of laundry along your journey, but you’ll look damn good throughout the trip.

I’m encountering the issue of packing for varying climates. I’ll begin my journey in freezing cold Denver, Colorado, then I’ll fly down to sweltering South Florida, and finally, I’ll be heading out on a climbing trip to a chilly southeastern mountain destination. So how do I prioritize and find room for both bikinis and wool socks, plus all my climbing gear? Here’s what my bed looks like with my to-be-packed mess spread out on it:

For jackets and bulky clothes, consider investing in those sweet vacuum-sealed bags that suck all the air out of your fluffy jackets, making them much more manageable. I was lucky enough to inherit a bundle from my doting mother, but budget-minded vagabonds can also use gallon-sized plastic bags. Just fill ’em up, seal the zip most of the way, sit on the back to squish out all the air, zip that sucker up, and voila! I recently read a blog article about a woman who uses plastic bags to create an outfit a day when she packs – but my adventures are too spontaneous for that kind of planning.

Other great tips include:

Roll your shirts/tank tops up as tight as possible.

(My suitcase has two metal bars going through the bottom of it,
so rolled up clothes and tights fit perfectly into the small spaces that would otherwise be wasted.)

Fold wisely – think Tetris.

Save the small stuff for last.

(Small, especially rolled up, items can be crammed into the
various little pockets of space created by your larger items.)

Put liquid items in a plastic bag.

(Seriously, there is nothing worse than an exploded bottle of moisturizer all over
your favorite flannel. Quickly popping your liquids/oils in a little zip-lock bag will contain any mid-flight eruptions).

Pack chronically.

(For instance: I’ll be in Miami before I head to colder climates,so my bulky zip-locked
sweaters are positioned at the bottom of my suitcase, since I won’t be needing them for a few weeks.)

With a little bit of planning, execution, and burly arm strength, any over-packing schmuck can transform into a zipped-up, ready-to-roll travel expert. Honestly, if I can fit all that junk on my bed into two small bags, anyone can. I ended up taking just one big jacket, a lighter jacket, one sweatshirt, two pairs of jeans, two pairs of leggings, two flannels, my thermals, a few tank tops, a pair of shorts (okay, maybe three pairs of shorts – but I’m excited about this warm weather, okay?), one dress, one pair of sandals, one pair of boots, one pair of Toms, and the usual under garments. And I will confess, I had to take four pairs of my favorite wool socks – I’ve become a sock fanatic.

Here’s my end result:

There you have it, advice on packing lightly, or at least light enough to fit it all in a reasonably-sized space – and proof that is can actually be accomplished. The biggest obstacle standing between me and my 6:00 AM flight has been conquered.

Follow my escapades through Denver, Atlanta, Florida, and beyond in real time on Twitter @themorningfresh
and check out The Morning Fresh on Facebook for additional updates – join in on the conversation!

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Top 5 (mostly free) iPhone apps for on-the-go adventurers and climbers

As much as I enjoy disconnecting from reality while I’m out exploring the world, I must admit that my iPhone is the one travel accessory I wouldn’t dare leave home without – and my favorite apps help make my technological tool the ultimate source for information and connectivity while I’m out on the road.

Whether you’re an adventurer out on a road trip through the midwest, or a climber looking to explore a new crag in the southeast, these five (mostly free) apps will offer essential assistance during your escapades.

1. Weather Channel

From weekly forecasts and current conditions to weather advisories and interactive radar maps, the Weather Channel app is an absolute must, for everyone. Weekend warriors and perpetual nomads alike will benefit from keeping tabs on weather conditions, and I personally adore this app as a way to plan which days of the week will be best for outdoor adventures. The app allows you to store bookmark locations, and a glance at mine lists every climbing spot from Steele, Alabama to Yosemite National Park. It offers temptation forecasts of sunshine beckon you to camp a few extra days, and provides foresight when a storm is on the way.

During one particular climbing trip to Rocktown, I checked the next day’s forecast and saw that a torrential downpour and lightning storm was on the way. Since my small hatchback was hardly able to reach the mountain summit with good weather, I decided to head down the mountain before the storm, and slept in a nearby Walmart parking lot that night. I awoke to some truly wicked weather, and was grateful I had spared myself the agony of sliding down rain-slicked switchbacks.

This app is free!

2. Mountain Project

Here’s where the ‘mostly free’ part of this list comes into play. Mountain Project is the ultimate source for climbing information and community access, and after struggling with my disdain for purchasing iPhone apps, I finally caved and made the investment. A mere $4.99 annual subscription fee gives you access to an enormous database of climbing information. You download ‘crags’ (I have Boulder and Evergreen/Morrison currently installed on my device), which allows you to access route directions, beta tips, photos, and more – without needing wi-fi or any signal.

I tried to survive by just opening the MountainProject.com site on my phone’s internet browser, which quickly revealed itself as a waste when I trekked deep into the woods, lost reception, and lost my ability to access the site. Climbers, I highly recommend making the small investment – plus, the money goes to help a great organization.

Click here for more information about the Mountain Project app, which will soon be available on Android devices!

This app costs $4.99 per year.

3. Yelp

I used to be an Urbanspoon kind of gal, but after wasting too much road trip time scouring for places to eat, fumbling to update the maps to my current location, and driving miles out of the way to a restaurants that were no longer in business, I’ve switched my loyalty and now rely on Yelp for all my edible needs. This app makes finding new eateries extra fun with a ‘check-in’ feature, and you can instantly provide feedback for other users. Plus, this app doesn’t cater exclusively to the restaurant industry; you can find cheap hotels, gear shops, great local parks, and more.

I really enjoy the little map feature on Yelp profile pages that shows all my reviews across the nation. It’s a fun way to keep track of all the tasty places I’ve sampled during my cross-country trips. Check out my Yelp page at http://boue.yelp.com for a better taste of all the foodie fun to be had.

This app is free!

4. Cheap Gas

This is a recent discovery, that I wish I had made sooner. Dishing out the cheapest nearby gas stations, this budget-friendly app is key for any road trip. I remember hitting California and seeing $5.00+ per gallon at some stations, then traveling a bit further and hitting places that lingered around the high $3.00 range. Cheap Gas links up with GasBuddy.com to provide station information, and will help you save a buck by directing you to the most affordable places to refuel. A 30 cent price difference may not seem major on a gallon-to-gallon basis, but when you’re spending hundreds of dollars on long road trips, the change really adds up.

This app is free!

5. Free Wi-Fi

During my month-long solo trip in September, I decided not to take any time off from my job as a copywriter for LivingSocial – despite my camping, climbing, middle-of-no-where plans. I ultimately didn’t miss a single deadline, largely thanks to the Free Wi-Fi app. I sampled a few other internet-finding apps before settling on this one, which solely directs you to nearby establishments that provide wireless access for free. Dishing out extra funds to log online simply wasn’t in my budget, so this app made it easy for me to find free ways to get my deadlines tackled.

Word to the wise: not even the most sophisticated app can help you find Wi-Fi in the middle of Kansas. Address your internet needs before hitting those long stretches of nothingness – there is nothing more stressful than racing to a McDonald’s 90 miles away when you’ve only got 45 minutes to meet a deadline.

This app is free!

(Bonus) 6. Compass

Okay, so maybe this is really a Top 6, but the Compass app had to be included. Handy in a myriad of situations, this app was downloaded to my phone during my recent climbing excursions at Three Sisters Park in Evergreen, CO. The aforementioned Mountain Project app provided me with excellent directions to find boulders, but my internal compass is rubbish. This simple little app provides you with a sundial-type interface, which asks you to place your finger in the center, then rotate your phone until your finger lines up with the compass shadow – then voila, you know which way is north. Admittedly, this app doesn’t get used too often, but having it on my phone is imperative when I really need it.

This app is free!

So there you have it, a little peek into the iPhone apps that keep my adventures on track. Since most of them are free, there is really no excuse to find yourself caught without them. These apps will help steer you clear of lurking storms, keep your belly full of tasty eats, guide you towards your next great climb, provide you with access to the interwebs, and keep the directionally-challenged on track.

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Five ways to plan and execute successful solo traveling in America

So, you want to travel. Your closest cronies are all locked into unavoidable obligations that prevent them from tagging along, but a lack of co-pilot candidates shouldn’t deter your adventurous ambitions. Solo travel is a great way to explore the country, and you’re guaranteed to experience life-changing places and people throughout the journey.

During September 2011, I embarked on my own solo road trip. My adventures in solitude took me to the peaceful mountains of western North Carolina, the unfamiliar streets of Kansas City, the sprawling flat lands of middle America, cities that I would eventually move to, and even back to my balmy hometown of Miami. Armed with the knowledge obtained during my travels, I want to share some insights to, hopefully, inspire others to pursue road tripping alone.

#1 BUY A MAP. The first step for any modern road warrior lets technology take a backseat for a moment – there is nothing more tangible or exciting than flipping through the pages of a map or road atlas. Although I have many reasonably sized atlases and region-specific foldout maps, my favorite road trip tool is the enormous, and horribly outdated, map I inherited from my father. While your GPS will inevitably take control as you navigate the country, keeping your map and a highlighter handy will prove to be an invaluable method of tracking your route. I like to use a different colored highlighter for each of my trips – it’s great to retrace paths you’ve already trodden, and thrilling to ink up a fresh section of map as you venture towards uncharted sights. Plus, it will become a handy visual for post-trip storytelling.

#2 PLAN (IN MODERATION). Now that you have your map and a noggin bursting with ideas, it’s time to start planning – but not too much. It is all too easy to spend weeks and months researching attractions, estimating distances, and anticipating all the wonderful things you want to see and do, but beware. Preparation is essential to any successful road trip, but over-planning confines your experiences. I learned that the best way to plan is to choose the destination, scope out a few options for places to rest your head, and keep up to date with local happenings. However, if there is a major attraction that you’ve been dying to visit, don’t hesitate to make a commitment. Leaving your campsite a few hours early in order to arrive at the next town in time for a once-a-decade festival is worth the planning. On the other hand, skipping town early for the sake of “sticking to the plan” isn’t worth missing out on an afternoon of hiking with those rowdy fellas you met at the bar last night.

#3 LET IT HAPPEN. The perks and downfalls of planning provide a perfect segue to this next issue: spontaneity. Your home life has probably accustomed you to certain habits, expectations, etc. Life on the road is an entirely different beast; things happen, whether you like it or not. Campsites and hotel rooms fill up, weather conditions change without warning, the only restaurant within a hundred miles might close for the night – and you must learn to roll with the punches. The successful solo traveler will view these obstacles as opportunities for alternative adventures, rather than road blocks. Arriving at a town with a grumbling belly and ‘closed’ signs on every cafe isn’t the end of the world; now is the perfect opportunity to head to a gas station, pick up some provisions, and cook a meal over a campfire – you were always curious about Spam and eggs anyways. Remember this: every misadventure makes for an excellent story.

#4 BE PREPARED. If you’re going to be rolling with the punches, you’ll need to prepare for what life on the road will throw at you. Traveling by car is my favorite way to explore, and if you take a peek in my glove box you’ll always find a stash of items I refuse to adventure without. I cannot express enough how important biodegradable wipies are. No, I’m not kidding. Travel is inherently dirty, and after four days without a shower, wiping yourself down will feel like a spa treatment. Other important items include a first aid kit, extra water, plastic bags, flashlights/headlamps, emergency snacks, a small towel, and my father’s favorite, pepper spray. Paranoia has no place in the solo traveler’s mind, but keeping defensive protection at hand will always provide peace of mind.

#5 GO. No amount of research, planning, not planning, budgeting, packing, pepper spray purchasing, or calendar countdowns can properly prepare you for what lies ahead – you simply must go. You will forget your wool socks, you’ll leave without running that important errand – it’s inevitable, and as #3 dictates, you must just let it happen. Now you’ll just have to buy a new pair of wool socks in the Rockies (a perfect and practical souvenir), and perhaps you’ll have to pick up a small trinket to mail back to whoever ends up running that errand for you. The hours leading up to your departure will surely leave you with a gray hair or two, but as soon as you leave city limits and begin your solo journey, you will feel an exhilaration unlike any other. When weather gets nasty, go. When the vagabonding girls you share a hostel room with invite you to ditch your plans and travel to the desert with them, go. When you become bored, go. When you are homesick, keep going. You’ll find that once you finally settle back home, you’ll be filled with a longing to go.

Solo travel is a beautiful and complicated task. It involves an appreciation for solitude, an openness to befriend and trust strangers, and an unwavering determination to experience. Throughout my own solo trip, I collected a lifetime’s worth of memories. I’ve chased trains down the barren highways in New Mexico, picked apples in North Carolina orchards, built my own fire in the woods of Kentucky, shared wine with eighty-year-old women who journeyed along the same routes, and became an entirely different person than who I was when I first packed up my car and hit the road.

But I am not special, nor am I extraordinary in any way. Anyone can do this. You simply must go.

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Find the best (and worst) restaurants, local shops, accomodations, and more with me on Yelp

Writing restaurant, salon, and small business deal copy for LivingSocial has exposed me to the wonderful interweb resource that is Yelp. An outlet for rabid rants about poor customer service, rambling rave reviews about outrageous eateries, and a general source of excellent information, this site allows users – Yelpers, if you will – to contribute their opinions to a pool of star-rated write-ups that ultimately offer insight to the best, and worst, establishments in town.

Having to use Yelp reviews on a daily basis to gather information about merchants for whom I am assigned to write creative LivingSocial copy for, it was only a matter of time before I created my own account and began yelping. I quickly realized that this newfound addiction was a perfect companion for The Morning Fresh – it allows me to share my experiences at establishments all over the country.

Readers, whether you’re looking for a nosh-worthy Cuban joint in Key West, a home style eatery where you can score saucy barbeque in Mississippi, the best place to thrift in Tallahassee, or a sweet shop filled with secondhand climbing gear in Colorado, my Yelp reviews will help you find what you’re looking for. It’s admittedly a work in progress, but crafting Yelp reviews based on my travels has become a preferable distraction over my usual musings on Facebook.

Check out my Yelp reviews here.

Got an account of your own? I’d love to link up.

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