Working for the Weekend…

I’m spent the entire “adult” portion of my life working weekends. Key weekends like Labor Day weekend, Martin Luther King weekend and Memorial Day weekend have been busy work weekends for as long as I can remember – and I’m not complaining, it has just been my “norm” and part of my career field. But one of the “silver-linings” of COVID is that 1) I haven’t had to travel on weekends and 2) I didn’t/don’t have any place to be.

So after the first few weeks of Shelter-In-Place (or quarantine, however you view it) I decided to start exploring new places in my backyard (AKA Driving Distance) that would take back my weekends – and provide MUCH needed physical and mental relief from the stress of what else was going on in the world. There are a ton of state parks and outdoor recreation areas with enforced social distancing guidelines (and limited parking which helps).

I wake up early on weekdays – but I wake up earlier on the weekend to make sure I get even more time for myself… and time to adventure!

On top of the weekends at home – I was able to take advantage of the “work from home” status to change up my scenery and visit family who had also been sheltering-in-place. (Disclaimer: COVID test were taken before visiting anyone – and I 100% wear a mask and carry hand-sanitizer and disinfectant wipes everywhere I go)

Even though you may think you know where you live, I challenge you to get on TripAdvisor, Yelp and even Google your city to see what other people are seeing and doing. By doing this, I’ve been able to find a lot of hidden treasures minutes away – or within a few hours – from where I live.

One of my favorite things about these newly found weekend adventures, is finding small businesses that are finding ways to operate under the COVID rules and restrictions. Whether it’s ordering a to-go lunch at a small restaurant or buying a small gift from a local mom & pop shop/roadside pop-up, I feel like I’m doing my part to help support small businesses during this chaotic and uncertain time. And I’ve experienced some of the best customer service in years – being nice and courteous never goes out of style… even if a mask covers a natural smile (and yes, “smeyesing” – smiling with your eyes – is a thing).

Not really sure what the point of this post was – but I hope it inspires someone (or anyone) to find the silver lining in situations and finding ways to catch the curve ball thrown at you and to make the best of the situation. The issues happening in the world are 100% real and devastating… I’m not discrediting any of that (lord knows I’ve felt my fair share of setbacks and struggles in the past few months – like all of us have).

But life isn’t just about what happens to you, it’s about how you react and respond to it. I’m using this “opportunity” to be more present, to be a better listener and getting outside for some fresh air – and a fresh perspective.

How you are making the best of our new normal?

¡Bienvenidos Bogotá!

I travel a lot with my job. And I’m guilty of taking that for granted every now and then – especially when it feels like I’m spending more time up in the air than on the ground. But being on lock down going on 3-weeks now, I’m really feeling grateful for all of the opportunities and experiences I’ve had “getting” to travel.

Social media reminded me this morning, that while I finally have the domesticated routine of waking up, making breakfast, brewing coffee and starting my very routine and structured (quarantined) day at home… I was bouncing around Bogota, Columbia on this day 11 years ago..

Bogota, Columbia – April 2009

How many people get to travel and teach at international training centers across the world?
And I always try to learn more about the places I go, like learning which artists are native to the area and seeing the popular sites that make the destination unique!
And there is no coffee like Columbian coffee… I fell in love with Juan Valdez coffee that day. I bought awesome coffee cups from that shop that I still use to this day!

I was so lucky to get to visit Columbia with not just a good friend of mine (and brilliant teacher) Debbie, but also had the best host and friend, Robert who made sure we got a great taste of Bogota and still teach and train coaches and athletes from the area.

The city of Bogota was really pretty. Even on a rainy day the architecture and use of color really made and impact.

I loved that even in a busy city, the luxury of outdoor space was still valued. Courtyards like these were a testament to the wealth of the families and businesses who took residence there.

The city streets of Columbia have a historic charm that we don’t have here in the US. I wish that we had narrower streets that limited the numbers of cars and increased the foot traffic that lends itself to more street food!

I would love to have a courtyard garden like this one day, built around the heart of our home.

While I don’t always understand Picasso, I can always appreciate his unique perspective.

We’re not taking it all in – we’re just sitting because we needed a break from walking…

This installation was haunting – serving Psycho & American Psycho vibes.

There was a series of modern art revolving around street signs and public signage that was really cool – Especially the blend of Spanish & English signage.

I was familiar with the “plump” style of Fernando Botero’s art but didn’t know his name or his history prior to this trip to the Botero Museum. After visiting the museum, I started to notice his influence all over the city in statues, directional signs and accents in architecture – all subtle nods to its local artist.

It was nice to learn more about the history of the country as well.

Learning about the indigenous people and their early ways of living was very interesting.

It was remarkable to learn how quickly technology and science can completely change the day to day lives of a society.

And makes you appreciate that their history and wonder how different things can change in 10, 20 and 30 years…

And in addition to site seeing and really getting the taste and feel of Bogota, Columbia – we had the honor of teaching and sharing our skills/talent (the purpose of the trip).

Like I mentioned above, we were lucky to have such amazing hosts to take care of us – and translate because… Mi español es muy malo!

I’m really grateful for the opportunity I had to travel – and be welcomed into a community to graciously!

And while my Spanish needs work – I nailed “Bienvenidos” and to this day, it’s how I always greet Robert when we get the chance to see eachother!

I’m thankful for these awesome experiences I’ve had and that social media continues to humble me with the opportunities I have been given.

My goal during this period of isolation and “quarantine” is to reflect more on the moments and experiences that we may take for granted. While I’m not allowed to travel right now – it’s a great opportunity to look back at where I’ve been!

¡Bienvenidos Bogotá!

Lucerne, Switzerland

Starting August in Italy was phenomenal… If you’ve been following my blog at all, you’ve hopefully noticed the pictures and videos from our trip. When we planned the trip, we were a bit reluctant about the location since we had spent time in Italy before.

Luckily the Italian coast was an entirely different experience than Florence, Venice, Milan and Rome offered.

But with that hesitation to visit a country we had already been to in the back of our minds, we added an additional few days onto our trip to visit Switzerland!

I can happily say, that was a decision we will never regret!

Zurich and Lucerne were a total change of pace from Positano and the rest of the Amalfi Coast – but made for a perfect end to a perfect vacation!

We woke up early in Positano before sun came up and took a shuttle to the Naples airport. It was a short and easy flight from Naples to Zurich, Switzerland.

Leaving the Amalfi Coast was hard (I’m talking crystal blue waters and beautiful cliffside villages) but flying into Zurich was very exciting – especially seeing the mountains in the distance and knowing we’d be exploring a country we would both be stepping foot into for the first time in our lives.

We flew Swiss Air (appropriately) and had a safe, quick and easy flight. Like most of Europe, we were going to rely on the public transportation to get around.

But when you don’t know the language – it can become pretty intimidating and scary if you let it. We luckily ran into an older gentleman who was MORE than excited to use his English skills to help us find and make our train connection.

For anyone planning on spending a few hours on a train – splurge for the 1st class cabins!

The extra luxury of more space, a little more piece and quiet and the power outlets (in our case) was well worth the few extra dollars in the end!

I wish the US had the public transportation countries like Switzerland have – within 2 hours we made it from the Zurich Airport to the city center of Lucerne!

And I may just be a huge nerd – but I LOVE train stations! They aren’t just hubs of mass transportation, they are convenience stores, restaurants and sometimes (like in Zurich & Lucerne) HUGE shopping malls!

We may not have spoken the language – but time is time – and we were able to stay on schedule on our busy travel day! Every train station had clocks everywhere which was surprisingly reassuring and comforting.

Like kids on Christmas morning, we were so eager to get to our destination and see what the day had in store for us.

As we got closer to Lucerne the views just kept getting better.

Green trees, cute villages and a ton of rivers kept the train ride very visually appealing and exciting.

But Lucerne was the icing on the cake – just steps from the City Station you are water font of Lake Lucerne!

We were blessed with the most beautiful sunny days – and the weather was perfect for our adventuring and site seeing throughout the city.


We did our homework and selected one of the top rated hotels in the city for our stay, Hotel Schweizerhof.

Shout out to Trip Advisor – Trip Advisor was a huge help on deciding where to stay and what to do!

This hotel was a short walk from the train station – steps from the lake and its service, it’s hospitality and rooms were phenomenal (just check out their website – the website alone makes you want to book a flight to Lucerne immediately)!


And the views from our top floor room were unbelievable!

We could see far across the lake, the beautiful museum across the water and an perfect view of Mount Pilatus (the focus of my next blog)!


Walking to our hotel was short and easy – but also very difficult in terms of our attention because there were so many shops, busy city streets lined with restaurants and architecture begging to be admired.


After we checked into our room, we had a small break in our schedule before our boat tour – so we explored the main road outlining the water which was conveniently lined with trees, flowers and a walking trail.

The boat tour was the best introduction to the city. We got to learn about iconic building in the city like the first church, the guard tower and cities walls and the beautiful mountains surrounding the city and their history.

One subtle fun fact about Switzerland, is that the country is broken out into 26 different “Cantons.” Each of these cantons have their own flag and coat of arms.

Luzerne has a blue and white flag and you notice these colors and the flag almost everywhere when touring the city. My favorite nod to Luzerne’s flag were these bold doors (the one pictured below and in this blog header).

After our boat tour (and our flight, two trains and 1,000,000 steps that day) we got to enjoy a nice dinner at a popular restaurant in the city.

Another fun fact – Europe eats significantly later than America. We were the first people at the restaurant and while we were eager to chow down on our meals, other patrons were just starting to make their way into the building.

Regardless of dining much earlier than the locals – the food was delicious and we finished early enough to get to do a little more exploring before the sunset!

I made it a game to find the unique ways the architecture, landscaping or artwork would tie in the canton colors – this 15 foot tall door was one of the most obvious.

Seeing the city by boat was like window shopping – and getting to walk in and out of the busy streets was the sweet reward.

As we explored, my mind was building up so many questions to ask about the buildings origins, the story behind the bridges and what the artwork represented.

Luckily for us, we had multiple tours planned for our next day in the city! We had an early walking tour planned in the morning and had a larger tour planned to explore Mount Pilaus and venture up into the beautiful mountains we had been admiring all day in the distance.

This beautiful, clean and very walkable city is one I would strongly recommend to anyone traveling to Europe for the first time. While you 100% have the European vibe and energy, there is a great deal of English spoken and its ease of getting around would be a great introduction to European travel.

I could have spent the entire day taking photos and finding new reasons to love the city. But we had a great deal of excitement and adventure for one day. So as the sun started to set, so did we.

But not after a few more pictures and snacking at the chocolate and ice cream shops that seemed to be around every corner.

We had a little fun pairing our scenery with our outfit choices for the day.

A palm tree polo looked great with an ivy wall…

…and my loud floral prints found a nice pairing with the flowers greeting us back at the entrance to our hotel (please note: my shirt choices definitely got attention, haha).

A few drinks at the hotel bar were all that we needed to call it a day and relax before another busy day ahead of us.

If you want to see a little more from our day in Lucerne – check out highlights on my Vimeo channel.

Lucerne, Switzerland from Matthew Goto on Vimeo.

I would love your feedback if you’ve been to Lucerne or plan on visiting!

We missed the “famous” Lion statue and I wish we had a few more insider tips before we started exploring – but still had an amazing day exploring Lucerne!

Thank you for reading and following along on our August adventures – more to come soon!

Wake up and go the extra 7,000 steps…

One of the best things about traveling (in addition to seeing new parts of the world) is getting to meet new people along the way.

On our trip to Italy we were meeting up with friends and friends of friends – which meant, new relationships and connections were bound to be formed!

After a fun filled day of exploring the local beach, taking a water taxi into the heart of Positano and dining on authentic Italian food (see previous Italy post) the first thing you want to do the next day is probably rest… But that was not the case for me and that shouldn’t come to a surprise to anyone who knows me!

Instead of sleeping off the jet-lag, I set my alarm bright and early to take on what is known as “The Path of the Gods” hike that overlooks the Amalfi Coast over Positano!


And lucky for me, a friend of a friend joining us on our Italian Adventure was brave and willing to join me that morning (Hi, Allison)!


Luckily for us, the hike actually started outside of our Villa (like LITERALLY in front of our door). But convenience aside, we still left the Villa at 6:00am to take on the 7,000+ steps waiting for us.


We even met a dog who served as our tour guide for a good leg of the adventure (he makes a few appearance in the video at the bottom of the page). I named him Doggo and he clearly knew this trail better than the two of us. We were sad when we parted ways but we loved his company and hope others get to experience his energy and quick pace!

Positano is known for its stairs… being on the coast it is no stranger to hills (and hills on hills). And this hike solidified its reputation – I lost count of how many different stairways we climbed and felt as if it was a cruel tourist trap as the staircases started to look the same.

But as they say, the greater the climb – the better the views!


The views on this hike were pretty incredible. Large yachts that we saw nestled off the coast became tiny blips of white as we made it higher and higher on our climb.


And the 6:00am start time was rough but allowed us to climb in the shadow of the mountain greeting by cool breezes and appreciate the pops of color decorating the trails through brightly colored flowers and the ruins of older homes and farms that we passed along the way!


The funniest part of the hike was greeting people along the way. Ironically, we only met other Americans! The US was well represented on this hike with visitors from Chicago, San Diego, Los Angeles, Missouri, Newport Beach, San Jose (me) and New York City (Allison).


But one of my favorite parts of this 4 hour adventure, was getting to connect and bond with my new friend (Hi, Allison – again)!

Someone who I had never met before but shared common friends with – and the more we chatted the more connections we had! I never would have expected to meet someone new in Positano visiting from New York City that knew about my North Carolina high school, shared college friends with and had such a passion for working with young people! She made the hike more fun – and even when our legs were killing us and we were out of breathe – we were in it together and bound to make it to the finish – which we did with smiles and laughter the entire time (okay, MOST of the time).


Allison, if you’re reading this – I’d gladly hike 7,000 hikes with you any day of the week!

And pretend to climb big boulders JUST to get awesome Instagram photos! haha



Just before we hit our turn around point, the sun really started to show itself and it brightened up the entire trail revealing sunning views like the ones below! Pictures can’t even do it justice…


If you ever visit the Amalfi Coast – Positano is a MUST.. And if you do make it there, please wake up extra early one day and take the Path of the Gods! I guarantee you that you won’t regret the effort – and bring a friend! Or in my case, make a new one!



And if you haven’t scrolled away just yet – here are some highlights from that adventure on Vimeo:

Thanks for following along on my adventures! Check out other posts to see where else

I’ve been – and stay tuned a I share Pompeii , Capri and more European destinations in my next posts to come!

There is so much of the World to see…

One of my favorite quotes is “Once you’ve climbed to the top of the mountain, you only then realize there are higher mountains to climb” – or something similar to that.

And some people have told me that they think its depressing and a “balloon popping” statement – but I find it to be very motivating and inspiring. We all have obstacles or experiences in life we either push ourselves to achieve or reward ourselves with. And to me, I relate to the quote in terms of my personal goals – always reaching for my goals and then reaching higher for the next ones. But also in terms of travel – once you experience worldly travel or get out of your element, you realize that there will always be so much more to see and experience!

This quote really spoke to me recently while traveling through Europe with friends. My last post shared my journey from the West Coast of California to the Amalfi Coast of Italy in a fast forward mashup of video clips from my GoPro. While the 5 minute video gave you a sneak peak to what it takes to get to the other side of the world, the reality of the situation is that it takes an entire day of travel to get where you’re going in cases like mine. The sacrifice of time for the benefit of new and exciting experiences. While I have been to Italy before, this trip took me to an entirely new experience.

I have traveled the canals of Venice on a gondola, walked the tight streets, shopped the many shops stacked one after another and appreciated each building lining the Grand Canal with unique architecture, beautiful colors and personality all their own.

In Florence I have walked across the Ponte Vecchio, toured the castles and history rich structures that have stood strong since the 14th century and indulged in authentic Italian cuisine – especially wine.

And I have stood where gladiators have fought, walked along the very same corridors walked by Pope St. Francis himself and fell in love with “The Eternal City” known as Rome.

Venice, Florence and Rome were absolutely stunning and unique in their own ways – but I left a piece of my heart along the Amalfi Coast on my favorite and most recent trip to Italy.

Upon arriving into Naples (the closest airport to Positano where we would be staying), we took a private car to our destination – a journey not for anyone with motion sickness or fear of heights. The roads feeding into Positano are narrow – often only big enough for 1 lane – and wind in and out for what feels like day bordering cliffs or hovering over smaller towns on the route. While my description isn’t exactly flattering – the views of the coast and the cities (especially Sorrento) are breathtaking and make you feel as if you have time traveled to a slower and more romantic date in time.


Our residence sat above the main street in Positano just a few minutes walk to downtown. And the view (above) speaks for itself…


Positano was beautiful – especially if you are into that Italian Vernacular style, hypnotic blue water and lush greenery (just describing it makes me smile remembering my first impression of the city).



If the cities aesthetic wasn’t captivating enough, our Villa (which the Birthday Boy arranged – Way to go, Kevin) was immaculately landscaped and cared for by  its groundskeeper who spent 12 hours a day caring for the property (9am to 9pm, as he would be sure to remind us).


This place had multiple levels, intimate bedrooms, beautiful shared common spaces, terraces and patios on each of the five levels and its own private pool for us to enjoy.


We spent more time than we can recall watching the boats come in and out of the cove into Positano and even more time trying to identify which boat Jennifer Lopez, Leonardo DiCaprio, Oprah and other celebrities were on – it was all over the news that we weren’t the most popular tourists in town that week.

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Just steps from our Villa was a staircase down to a “private” beach popular with the locals and tourists looking for more of a low-key Positano experience. Stairs were a reoccurring theme in Positano… being nestled among the cliffs, stairs provided the most popular (and exhaustingly repetitive) way of getting around.

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The small beach was cut in half – half reserved for the Beach Club with tangerine and white swirled umbrellas and the other half al-naturale flooded with locals with their mismatched beach towels and families picnicking and playing games.


While my adventurous side swam with the youngsters to the cliffs for a little cliff jumping, the tourist in me definitely enjoyed the peach mojitos at the beach club!


This “private” beach had at least 1,000 less people than the main beach in the heart of Positano. The smaller crowd made it feel intimate and shared between the tourists and locals. And the water was so clear than you could see the rocks and fish beneath you for as far as I could swim.

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Another luxury afforded us by this “private” little beach was water taxi service into downtown. If taking a water taxi with friends to a delicious Italian dinner is a crime – please lock me up and throw away the key.

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Metaphorically, Italy was a mountain that I wanted to climb. And once I got a taste I discovered that there was so much more to see. This trip to Positano was the higher peak to climb – and I’m excited to share that experience with you all!

Deep in the heart of Texas!

One of the joys of working from home, is often changing where “home” is. Anyone who has been following my blog or social media posts have probably realized that I don’t like to sit still for long – and changing up my workplace is a reoccurring theme.

Not too long ago I had the opportunity to piggy back on someone else’s business trip by joining them on the 1st leg of the trip to Texas and I jumped on the opportunity.

So after a work trip to Southern California, I met my ride and we headed East leaving the West Coast behind us! Two days later, we arrived in Capital of Texas – Austin!

I’m not sure how many cups of coffee or miles we drove, but my bloodtype was “espresso” by the time we made it to our AirBnB in Austin, TX.


I heard Austin was “cool” but I was blown away by the unique and creative displays of art, architecture and how lush and green everything was!

If you’ve been reading a while, you’ve probably seen multiple landscapes and murals that I’ve gravitated to across the different cities I’ve traveled to – but Austin takes the cake for creative expression, hands down!

It’s one thing to allow for creativity in the form of large scale art and its a whole new world when its celebrated like it is in Austin.

 From what I learned from conversing with strangers (mostly coffee shop employees and Uber drivers) the creative expression stems from the Hope Outdoor Gallery, which got its start in 2011. While the purpose isn’t as clear as it’s roots suggest (when I was there I saw a ton of people just writing their names), the goal was to create a place for large scale street art focused on inspiration, education and positive messaging.

Either way, I found the park to be inspiring. To know that a city dedicated a place for the outside thinkers, the creatives and those who need to be inspired means its my kind of city. And based on the traffic and amount of people coming and going its a project that deserves the extra funding or support to keep going! I know – its looks like no one is there, but I strategically took photos when I had good shots of the art – without the tourist obstructions of dads in cargo shorts and teenagers posing for their next filtered instagram post.

 From the top of the Hop Gallery structures, there was a pretty impressive view of the Austin skyline! There are a ton of new apartment buildings and highrise’s coming in – which only speaks to the growth and demand of the city. I wish I has the opportunity to visit the park at night to see how lighting brings different pieces to life and to take in the starlit glow of the skyline.  Surrounding the Hope Gallery were shaded trails that were equally painted – which at first seemed a bit vandalized but gave the park a very Alice in Wonderland vibe (assuming you were on the tail end of the caterpillars pipe or were on the same recreational usage as the Madd Hatter). img_2199Even after leaving the Hope Gallery and making my way past the North side of the bridge (separated by the Colorado river) unique murals decorated the parking structures, walkways and facades of almost every blank space you could see.


While in Texas, its hard to go longer than a few minutes without seeing the Texas flag posted somewhere – Austin is 100% Austin and proud of it. Which shows not only a strong sense of community, but a progressive and welcoming one at that.

But street art aside, Austin is probably (and should be) more well known for its outstanding food options! For the few days we were there, we ate like Kings and didn’t have a bad experience anywhere we went. The food was always delicious, the portions reminded us we were NOT in California and the customer service always left us with a smile.

By popular recommendation, we went to Terry Black’s Barbecue… a MUST if visiting Austin. I was a little hesitant with the “mess hall” set-up where strangers stood in line for their opportunity to scoop the side dished of their choice into paper trays lined up on their medal food trays… But the peach cobbler, mac and cheese and potato salad make up for it and give the place a very “down south” vibe which add to the overall dining experience!Back on Congress Ave, South Congress CAFE was a great dinner option with equally large portions and a cocktail menu we generously made our way through (with no complaints). Congress Ave was filled with places to eat, unique places to shop and my favorite – more street art! But my absolute favorite thing about Congress Ave was that almost every establishment had an old school neon sign. It gave the street a very unique and old school vibe but also lit up the street at night almost welcoming you to explore every corner and stop along the way.

So this is the Californian in me talking (or being a naive millennial) but I had no idea that Austin was the capital of Texas. I cant be the only person – I for sure that Dallas had this one on the bag.

But either way, the State Capital building in Austin was spectacular! It caught my eye when we drove in, stood out when I was looking at the skyline from the Hope Outdoor Gallery and was even bigger and more grand in person.

I enjoyed walking the meticulously kept grounds rich in monuments and facts. And couldn’t have asked for better weather (or lighting) to explore this history rich landmark.

I joked in my instagram story of there being so much #History – because there was! Every statue had a story and stood for some monumental (get it, lol) achievement or mileSTONE (another bad pun – but I don’t care if you laughed, I did).

Now to my favorite part of Austin… It has got to be one of the most active and outdoorsy cities in America, right?!?! I mean there were people running, riding bikes, going for walks, paddle-boarding, canoeing and walking there dogs everywhere… Okay, the paddle-boarding and canoeing was just in the river – but you see the picture I’m painting.

Not only were there beautifully landscaped and paved walkways along both sides of the river and downtown, there were trails and paths carved out as well making this the perfect place for cyclists (especially those with road bikes and mountain bikes)!

The bridges were also lush with park benches, colorful planters and perfect picture opportunities to take in the views of (the growing) downtown area.

And it was hard to cover ground on the trails because every so often there was a break in the trail to provide river access for the canoes, paddle-board and kayaks. You could bike or run right by them, but after a long workday bouncing from coffee shop to coffee shop I loved taking the short breaks to enjoy more of what mother nature had to offer.

Even on a weekday, there were plenty of people out on the river taking in all that Austin had to offer. Between biking between coffee shops I always noticed there were always people on the water – which made me wonder, what the hell do these people do all day that they can spend hours on the river on a Tuesday?!?! I’m not mad – just tell me your secret!

While I wish Silicon Valley had these kind of walkable and photo worthy places to stop and enjoy – but Ya’ll (and yes, I mean YA’LL) can keep the Texas heat and humidity.

img_2264 I don’t know much about space or geology – but Texas must be 100 miles closer to the sun than California. You can quote me on that, not being an astronaut or geologist my uneducated assumption felt pretty accurate.

Even on opposite ends of the bridge and miles away from the Hope Outdoor Gallery there were reminders of the inspiration and optimism. After seeing this mural stretched between city blocks I googled the Hope Projects and found out that H.O.P.E. actually stood for Helping Other People Everywhere – an awesome mission that extends much farther and deeper than graffiti and colorful artwork.

 And when seeking shelter from the sun (even at 6:00pm in the afternoon) I found even more murals between a parking garage and movie theater. You can’t see the details of the mural behind my narcissism above, but there where classic movie posters set as the background to colorful art and Texas imagery.

 And back on Congress Ave among the restaurants and shops were plenty of tourist traps, that I of-course flocked to like catnip. The “I Love You So Much” stop was on my to do list, but unfortunately the line of people to take selfies was too long – don’t get me wrong, I love a good selfie (see items #148-165 above) but I prefer a casual selfie and not 300 angles and options to be filtered and painted for future sharing.

I couldn’t pass up this photo opportunity – for my love of Coffee and well, Love… Shoes and Sunglasses aren’t the top of my “Need” list – but since they were on the sign, I’ll take it!

This mural was on the side of one of my new favorite coffee shops (my next post is dedicated entirely to Austin Coffee Shops, so if you want to know where this is – stay tuned)!

And we ended our final night in Austin, Texas doing something unique and one of a kind – paddle-boarding Lady Bird Lake / the Colorado River at sunset with light up paddle-boards!

Through AirBnB we found The Adamson Bro’s who run their “Glow Paddle” Paddle Board Tours from the Texas Rowing Center in Austin, through Lady Bird Lake. I’m pretty adventurous and I’m a sucker for fun new excursions – and this is an activity I’d gladly do again tomorrow! Our guides were awesome, knowledgable and up for some good conversation – and the unique experience of paddle boarding the lake with neon lights fluorescently lighting the way was one of the best lasting impressions of Austin we could have asked for.

The experience was so unique and fun that I didn’t get much video footage from it or the steadiest of photos – but if you are ever in Austin, do yourself a favor and book your boards now!

You can check out 60 seconds of our tour on my Vimeo channel, not the greatest footage – but you can appreciate the gorgeous Texan sunset and the glow of Austins skyline over the water.

I know these are blurry photos – but when your photographer is on a stand up paddleboard you are just grateful they get the photo and your GoPro doesn’t find its was to the bottom of the lake.

I wish we had more time in Austin than the few afternoons to explore after long workdays – but I got a healthy taste of it and I am eager to return sooner than later to see more sights and sounds – and to paddle the lake one more time… maybe this time I’ll stay in focus! =)

Austin quickly became one of my favorite cities – in so many ways. There is so much more I want to see, taste and explore so I’ll be back soon!

Excited to share my next post showcasing the different Coffee Shops I had the honor of experiencing per locals and friends recommendations!

If you have any recommendations of your own, please comment and let me know! My next trip to Austin will be 0% work and 100% play and I’m going to have to plan accordingly to fill my days with everything I want to do!

Stay tuned, the #AustinCoffeeTour post is coming soon!

Till we meet again, Austin!

Appreciating Earth – Today and Everyday (especially on Earth Day)

We live in the beautiful state of California – where we have gorgeous beaches, spectacular mountains, rolling hills and more outdoor adventures than you can count.

But none of that actually counts, unless you take advantage of it!

It’s hard to find time to be adventurous and take time to disconnect – but it’s not impossible with strategic planning and sticking to tight schedules.

In honor of Earth Day (and the needed mental break), this past weekend we loaded up Black Beauty (our all black Ford Explorer Sport) and rented an AirBNB in the mountain range north of Santa Barbara. It was remote, not “that” easy to get too and a total change of pace and vibe from our lives in Silicon Valley. An afternoon drive (and a few Starbucks stops) is all it took to make our way down the 101 along the amazing coast and we were there.

We have become pretty good at the whole “road trip” thing this year. We’ve got the perfect car cooler that keeps all of our drinks and snacks chilled (and was perfect to keep grocery’s cold with our AirBnB being a healthy trip up the mountain). We know exactly how to set up the dog bed, harness and supplies needed to bring our dog (aka most important member of the family) along with us.

Side Note: If you travel with your dog, you need to purchase an AutoDogMug! It’s a water bottle with a small bowl attached to the top that allows you to squeeze water into the bowl and releasing the bottle sucks the additional water back into the bottle so you can easily offer your four legged friend some H2O by reaching over into the back seat and not have to worry about spilling or splashing!

Speaking of coolers and supplies- we have built a solid arsenal of supplies that you can’t Road Trip without…

  • Folding Chairs
  • Beach/Picnic Blanket
  • Collapsible Tent
  • First Aid Kit (and lots of sunscreen)
  • Cooler (mentioned above)
  • Charging accessories
  • Beach Towels
  • Dog Gate

And while that list sounds like a lot, it really doesn’t take up much in the car – and if you shop around you can find items that stack really well or fold flat to maximize trunk space. Anyone have any Road Trip “must haves” that we are missing?!?!

Our beach blanket lives in the car year round. It has hosted many picnics (in random parks and parking lots – especially when traveling with pets who aren’t allowed in most dining establishments), provided a cool surface when the street was too hot for puppy feet and has been more than clutch when changing tires or covering items we didn’t want see by passerby’s.

But back to our much needed “disconnect” and #ED18 (Earth Day, duh) – our AirBNB exceeded our expectations. Yeah, it was 30+ minutes from the closest grocery store and you need a 4-wheel drive vehicle to get to it but it was 100% worth the extra haul – I could explain to you in detail why, but I’m confident the pictures below paint a pretty convincing case…

After the climb up the steep and single lane mountain road, we turned into a long gravel packed driveway that led to the coolest little cottage nestled at the top of a succulent rich landscape surrounded by lush trees and greenery. *Spotted Caesar (@Caesar_Johnson_JRT)The grounds had so many trails and paths, each one made you feel like you were exploring corners of the property never seen before – but small terra-cotta pots or clay creatures were hidden in the landscape to remind you that every inch was a part of the master plan. And if the views weren’t spectacular enough, there were about half a dozen wind-chimes scattered around the property which let you hear the ocean breeze as it climbed up the mountain, added to the soundtrack nature played and set the mood for exploring and adventuring. I’m mad that I didn’t get any pictures of the ceramic fish that I kept finding along the property – I want to find a similar one to hide in our backyard to remind me of this weekend and this property!The entire landscapes flowed naturally as if Mother Nature went above and beyond to spoil this area – but the level of detail was due to Mother Nature, one absolutely killer landscape architect and very detailed oriented gardener. We have a decent yard at home, but being able to let our dog run free around the property and take in the sights and smells made this trip extra special knowing every member (fur not not) enjoyed the retreat!

The vibrant blues and greens throughout the property echoed the clear blue skies and teal green ocean views in the distance.

This mountain retreat was so high and had such clear views that you could literally see the “line where the sky meets the sea…” (any Moana fans out there?!?!)

Does anyone know what this dinosaur of a plant is called? There were hundreds of them everywhere in Santa Barbara and along the coast and I really want them incorporated into our backyard landscape (that is – when we figure out what it is we plan on doing back there).

While the plan was to sleep in and enjoy the mini-vacation, the sun greeted us bright and early and the birds seemed to sing extra loud and extra early this weekend – and we didn’t mind the change of schedule one bit. Watching the sun rise from the east and seeing the rays of light Peak through this large tree was amazing… we went a little outside of the property line (whoops) to capture this picture. Totally worth the risk of tetanus climbing through the rusty barbed wire to get here, but I wish the photo was able to capture the soothing movement of the tall blades of grass as the wind swept through.While Caesar enjoyed chasing ground squirrels, scaring lizards from under plants and “watering” everything and anything under the sun we enjoyed finding different species of succulents and plants we can only dream of growing in our yard.

Some of the plants were the largest we had ever seen, giving us very Jurassic Park vibes.

I wish we had more time to explore all of the paths and trails carved out on the property, but the few we found were plenty enough for the weekend and beautiful reminders of Mother Nature’s beauty.

You can see some of the paths in the photo below with large stairways blocked out by large pieces of stone.

The view below is from the trail that took us just above the property our cottage sat on. It’s views like these that make you start planning what monumental life occasion could be staged here?!?! A friends wedding, a renewal of vows… OR yet another millennial photo pretending to be deep in thought so I can post it later with a meaningless quote (we all know that is coming).I have zero guilt in shameless selfies when there were so many picture perfect moments to take advantage of. But even Caesar was over taking photos after our first day exploring the property…

He was originally sitting on the bottom rock in the picture below – a picture that would have surely made him Instafamous – but he saw a lizard and took off and his endorsement deal from Petsmart remains a dream (a parent can dream…)

Being so close to Santa Barbara, we had to explore the city known for its Mediterranean climate, wine country and beautiful beach culture.

Caesar had zero complaints about our little day trip into SB. He absolutely loved running along the beach and attacking every piece of seaweed that washed on to shore. But if you are traveling with your pets make sure you plan in advance which beaches you plan on visiting as not all beaches are dog friendly. We had to make a few stops till we found a beach that was pet friendly.

Doing your homework as to where you can and can’t take your pets might help you find hidden gems in the area like hikes that lead to waterfalls (like these!).

We stumbled onto this waterfall while googling the area after we had lunch at a small park off the freeway (again, a big blanket always comes in handy).Pictures can’t do the nights sky justice….

Joshua Tree is one of the only places I have ever been with so little light pollution that the stars and moon fully illuminate the earth below.

But this cottage was so remote that the stars and moon were enough to light up the sky and cover everything in sight with a blue tint that seemed to magically enchant everything in sight (no Instagram filter can do that…. yet). We already miss the sounds of frogs croaking, creatures shuffling in the leaves under the trees, that long and winding dirt mountain road and the whimsical sound of wind-chimes dancing as the ocean breeze sweeps the mountainside.

We are grateful for the amazing AirBNB Cottage Rental, Black Beauty for a comfortable and safe trip and the ability to make the time to reset and disconnect ourselves. Sometimes you have to disconnect and hit the reset button so you can bring your best self to the table.

It’s not even Monday, and I already feel refueled and rejuvenated for the week ahead – but don’t think for one second I’m not missing relaxing on the patio of the cottage.

And we are mostly grateful for beautiful, stunning, surprising and all inspiring Mother Nature! Thank you for keeping this giant spinning ball looking so good for the past 4.54 billion years! You continue to amaze us, entertain us and reward us! We hope that we leave a minimal footprint behind (and sorry about that whole road tripping in a large SUV thing – we use recyclable bags and avoid one time use plastic bottles – so they cancel each other out, right?)

Happy Earth Day! Let me know how you celebrated Earth Day 2018 and if you know of any road trip worthy destinations please let me know!

I’m excited to report back after our next adventure (it will be our longest and farthest road trip to date)!

As always, thanks for reading and stay tuned for more pictures and videos to come!!!

Valley of the Sun – and Street Art!

Another weekend has come and gone – and shockingly enough, I was out of town for another event…

But as I always try to tell my staff and those I care about, you always have to find time for yourself – and on this 48 hour trip in and out of Phoenix I did just that!

Flying into Sky-harbor International Airport (a trip that is almost a monthly occurrence these days) I saw the typical landmarks you’d come to expect from the valley: Camelback Mountain, Desert, Chase Field (or the Bank One Ballpark as I remember it), more Desert, the airport and some really cool street art!

So after my not so Disney Magical Express commute to the Rental Car Terminal I decided to take 30 minutes for “me” and explore the creative sights in Phoenix you might not hear about on the travel channel (if you haven’t been on the DME in Orlando I apologize that reference was lost on you).

The thing I love most about Street Art, is that you don’t have to understand it to enjoy it (this rule also applies liquid nitrogen made ice cream and air travel). So I drove my rental car through and around downtown Phoenix and saw so many amazing pieces that I wanted to capture and share!

I do not know the artists names or backstory, but their work deserves attention and if anything – I hope this post finds its way to them so they know they got two thumbs up from this peanut gallery.

This mural really stood out to me! I love the Mayan (is that even culturally correct?) structure, colors and lose relationship to outer space. Something tells me if I look at this mural long enough it will give me a clue to when the world is suppose to end, or provide proof that the aliens build these structure and the pyramids.

And I don’t quite get this piece but the colors and construction of the face through the curves is beautiful. And I really like the landscape to the left of the silhouette because I think I can match the artist to another piece I captured just a few minutes later farther south. I really like these figures caught in mid-intimate dance. Without flesh and muscles to showcase their expression it’s hard to tell if they are passionately tied to each other or if they are just background dancers of a bigger production and just going through the steps – I assumed it was the former and looked away as to not interrupt their “moment” – plus, i’m a millennial and you knew a deep-in-thought selfie was inevitable…

I call this next peice “Cher the Wall” since this beautiful profile shares the wall with a whimsical hummingbird. “If I could turn back time” I’d like to be there when the artist created this and ask who this woman is and what inspired the piece. I really dig the tie to the vines and wonder if she is suppose to represent mother nature (for some reason I always envisioned her as a blonde – go figure).

And based on the sign, I think this area is called Roosevelt Row – but I’m no Trip Advisor or as geographically inclined as Google Maps.

(Warning, this is about the get as deep as my intellect will take me – don’t worry, its a hole you can easily step out of)

At first I saw this piece and thought that the person was crying because of the mess they had made… But after making my way close to the artwork, I picked up on the color of their hair and the deeply embedded colors pushed into their fingernails and the smallest wrinkles on each hand. Thats when my perspective changes – then I realized it wasn’t a sad picture of someone being upset – but instead, a artist who was reflecting on the work they created. The color fading from the hair represented how much the artists put in to their work… so much that there was nothing left to give but the faint color left behind. And all of the colors and marks on their hands showed the hard work and grit put into creating the master piece. I could be 100% off, but this piece really spoke to me and the work that I do. Some times you cant appreciate what you are doing because you are so deeply engulfed in the process, that you need to take a step back and see the bigger picture, what you created and the impact you may have had.

And in a giant contrast to my deep analysis above –  I just really dug the funky southwest flair of this cactus and its landscape within the text.

This piece is sideways… and thats okay. Because I don’t think there is a wrong way to look at it. And I’m pretty sure this wall was done by the same artist as one of the earlier photos I shared in this post. I loved how a walking tour of “Roosevelt Row” could be tied together by street art.

There was artist expression everywhere I could see and I loved the variety and style.


This design was a recurring theme – really helped to tie the area together!

Even in the smallest places you can find unique pieces and surprises.

I really liked this view – almost as if you were driving out west in downtown Phoenix and watching the sun go down. A view I remember vividly being born and raised in the Valley of the Sun.

I call this piece ” Millenial Catnip” because brightly colored flower and abstract designs screams “take a selfie in front of me” – so I did . And in the words of Demi Lovato, “Sorry not sorry…” (Yup, I went there).

Don’t get this one either… And that’s okay. I call this “The Product of Recreational Drugs and Paint.”

Now this piece is unique and not just because the dude looked like PeeWee Herman or because there were flying pigs… Or maybe, its exactly because PeeWee finally found love (pointing to the heart shape up out) when pigs fly.

And this last mural is one I actually saw part of before, but didn’t realize the piece stretched longer down the street. I had taken my photo before with these birds flying behind me – but love that now I knew where they came from.

If anyone else likes street art or has any cool pictures or pieces around Phoenix, please let me know – I’d love to see more of what Phoenix has to offer!

I have so much respect for these pieces and tip my hat to the artists. You are amazing and I would love to see more of what you (the artists) have done!

Thanks for reading and please let me know your thoughts and reactions to these pieces!

I love Street Art & Free Expression

I started my college career at North Carolina State University (Go Pack). One of my favorite things about the campus was a small tunnel connecting the residence halls to the classroom buildings called the “Free Expression Tunnel.” This tunnel was NC State’s solution to graffiti. They designated a set location where spray painting was allowed (think of it like a smoking zone – but instead of smoke, spray-paint).

I was always drawn to art (get it? OK, no more bad jokes) but never has any real spray painting experience till college. And it wasn’t until then that I realized how extremely difficult it was to paint with. I did my share of “free expression” in the tunnel during my time at NC State and since then had an admiration for the larger than life murals and urban masterpieces you often see in big cities or creativity placed throughout walk able neighborhoods.

I want to share some of my favorite pictures I’ve taken over the last 10+ years traveling internationally and domestically and would love to see what pictures you have to share if you too appreciate unconventional street art!

Taupo, New Zealand had creativity dripping from almost every building stretched along its quaint downtown. I think I spend and entire morning walking along the downtown eagerly looking for new pieces of artwork like the examples below!


I love this picture, because everyone’s first reaction is “THAT’S A BIG BIRD!” But it’s actually just a mural and the cuff of my jacket makes it look like the bird is actually on my arm! This was one of those awkward moments when I was standing in a parking lot taking a selfie and no one around me knew what I was doing… Point of the story – if you have the opportunity for a great photo, go for it!


This photo was taken just around the corner from the enormous bird selfie (above). I got to pretend I was a superhero for a few minutes and show off my powerful super hero punch (and super tight jeans.. RIP. Skinny Jeans).



Some of my best friends and I all happened to be in Sydney at the same time and we took the opportunity to head to Bondi! Now that is a beach (even in the winter) I could spend all day at! Great people watching, cool shops and places to eat – and awesome picture opportunities with local artwork clearly geared for tourists like myself.


You might recognize this picture from my Dallas post. Deep Ellum has a piece of my heart – and I cant wait to go back and see if any of the art has changed since my last visit.


I was driving with my mom in downtown Phoenix one day, and I pulled over into the back of an empty building and had her snap this picture of these birds that inspired me (and happened to be ALMOST as busy as the shirt I was wearing).


This is another favorite from my Dallas post…

TIRB2021And I love this picture I took in Queenstown, New Zealand (or it may have been Auckland) which looks like a giant postcard. I wish every city in the world had a postcard picture opportunity like this.. even if it did wish I weren’t there, haha.



Melbourne, Australia has an awesome downtown area dedicated to street art as well! Above is a mashup of some of the art and creatures decorating the long alleyways of downtown.


I spent a few mornings roaming Melbourne and could spend an entire week exploring the colorful sites and sounds that city has to offer!


Not totally sure what was going on here – but I’m glad my outfit coordinated.


And also not sure what is happening here – but I’m enjoying it.


Art doesn’t have to be bold and bright to be beautiful – sometimes it just needs to make a point like these two pieces!


Lastly this final mural is located directly next to a funeral home just miles from our home. I thought it was really random the day I found it riding my bike through downtown Willow Glen. But then I realized what it was facing and saw the real beauty in its purpose!


And while this next piece isn’t exactly on its way to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, it still make me very happy! #LouisvilleAlumni


If you ever have the chance to get to Grand Rapids, MI – they hold ART PRIZE every fall which is a beautiful display of artwork throughout the city. I go there every year for work at the tail end of the display and I’m always mesmerized by what people create! This mosaic painted piece was from years ago but I have saved this image because the eyes are so striking!


Now these other pieces aren’t exactly murals are street art, but they were also on display in Grand Rapids and I loved experiencing them in person!

I’ve had friends recommend some awesome street art and free expression in San Francisco and other bay area spots. If you know of any, please send your recommendations my way! I’m hoping to stroll over to Santa Cruz soon and snap some pictures of art I’ve driven by and want to share!

As always, thanks for reading and please share some of your favorite pieces with me!

Yosemite: Day 1

Yosemite National Park is one of the great American treasures everyone needs to experience! Geographically, Yosemite Valley was made sense to kick-start our road trip and adventuring – and it set the bar very high for the rest of the week!

Knowing that there is so much to do in the (freaking huge) park I wanted to make sure we got the most of our time there. So we drove up the night before and got an AirBNB in Mariposa. It was a little off the grid at a woodsy cabin off a dirt road surrounded by trees (and cows) – but totally set the tone for the week.

Our day started bright and early with temperatures in the 40’s – but taking the dog for his morning walk was lit by a sky full of stars even with the sunrise creeping up on the horizon. After filling our hydration packs and dressing in layers for day ahead, we made our way through Main Street in Mariposa on our way to Yosemite. We stopped for breakfast at Sweetwater Grocery & Deli – if you plan on stopping here make sure to give yourself time as the wait takes a while – but the breakfast sandwich is worth the wait! The store was totally stocked and we ordered sandwiches to pack away for lunch later that day. During our wait for our sandwiches we strolled around the corner to Donut-A-Go-Go which was the best find in Mariposa!

I walked in as they were stocking the shelves with fresh from the oven apple pie donuts – AMAZING! And for a small town coffee shop they whipped up a killer double iced mocha!

After fueling up in Mariposa, we made our way towards the park for a day of adventuring!

We planned the trip at the perfect time for little traffic (late September) – school had already started so there weren’t many families or college kids around. It was pretty much the four of us, our dog, Senior Citizens and Foreign Tour Groups (who were all super friendly and great to chat with around the park)!

The fee to get into the park was $30 which got you a weeks worth of access to the park – when you get this receipt DO NOT LOSE IT (“fun” story for Day 2).

On the way into Yosemite Valley guests are welcomed by El Capitan! This skyscraper of stone causes everyone to quickly grab the closest parking spot on the side of the road so they can take in its impressiveness. We jumped out of our car and immediately started taking pictures like everyone else surrounding us in the small field trimming the small two lane road of the park. We went for a small walk to get closer to El Capitan and were greeting by a small stream whose rushing waters drowned out the sounds of the cars behind us.

After taking in El Capitan we made our way in to the actual valley and were lucky enough to score a parking spot across the meadows of Yosemite Falls – another breathtaking site – especially since the falls were alive and flowing!

Tioga Pass is one of the main roads in Yosemite National Park which closes often due to snow and intense weather conditions. It snowed the night we made our way to Mariposa and the pass was closed which had us worried that our next day of adventuring would be cut short of sights and sounds if we had to reroute through Bakersfield and Fresno to get to our next destination on the trip… BUT the snow that fell the night before was melting and this contributed to the rich falls – which rangers told us we were very lucky to witness as there are times the falls aren’t flowing at all.

Yosemite Meadows

As we made our way through the meadows of Yosemite Valley we were less than 100 feet from a ton of deer – who didn’t seem to mind us visiting. One deer got within 10 feet of us and didn’t seem at all bothered by us – we actually felt bad because we felt like it was expecting us to give it a carrot (or a tip) for gracing us with its presence.

The stroll to Yosemite Falls was quick and easy – less than a mile from the Yosemite Falls bus stop if you take the Yosemite Shuttle (we would have loved to decrease our carbon footprint in the park and take the shuttle – but dogs aren’t welcome – so we had to drive).

The falls are beautiful, but if you are like me – the view from the pedestrian bridge doesn’t cut it – so I hiked up to the base of lower Yosemite Falls! It took a few minutes and it wasn’t that easy – but SO worth it! The base of the falls even had a spectacular rainbow stretching from the pool below the falls up into the base of the waterfall! The photo below doesn’t do it justice. And the strong mist from the waterfall will get you pretty wet, but after climbing that far it serves as a refreshing reward for the climb!

Yosemite Bows

We spent a great deal of our day tracing the trails of the valley connecting Yosemite Falls to Mirror Lake and then back to the open meadows. The trails connecting the parks attractions are a site themselves – all showcasing different views of the surrounding mountains. We were lucky to run into entire rock formations uniquely shaped and some decorated in moss.

Yosemite Moss.JPG

While we spent a great deal of the day hiking and making our way to Mirror Lake – it was pretty shallow and left little “mirror” to be desired… which makes me optimistic to visit again to hopefully get a better mirrored experience! BUT there were some pretty awesome views at Half Dome out in the distance – a hike I’m adding to my bucket list (anyone down to make the hike?!?!).

Yosemite Mirror1Yosemite Mirror2Yosemite Mirror3

The Yosemite Lodge and Visitors Center were great pit stops along the way back to where we parked the car. And since we packed our lunches we were able to throw a blanket down and have a picnic in Cook’s Meadows to refuel after hours of exploring.

Yosemite Meadows.PNG

And even though the trip was planned and mapped out in great detail, we came across Pohono Falls on our exit  – and of course we had to hike to its base!

This unplanned excursion was one of the best parts of the day with caves and great views of the waterfalls runoff filling small ponds and creating miniature waterfalls. About 3/4 the way to the base of the waterfall there was a small cave that had an opening in the back of the cave exposed to the it’s own waterfall – VERY cool find on the hike!

And after visiting El Capitan, Lower Yosemite Falls, Mirror Lake, Cooks Meadows and Pohono Falls – we were exhausted and called it a (very successful) day!

Loved spending time outdoors and connecting with friends – and especially in Yosemite Valley! Day 1 of 2 in Yosemite Valley was a hit and it was back to Mariposa for dinner and a long nights sleep before the adventure continued… More to come, stay tuned! =)



Adventuring: Yosemite – Day 1

Hit the Road: Adventure Awaits!

I love to travel (shocker). This love came from my grandfather, who would would take me and my brother on road trips growing up. We would pack up our backpacks for overnights at his house or venture up to Prescott, work his food truck in East Phoenix or even trek cross country to meet family members we had never met before.

He was a modern day gypsy. Family man, provider, care-taker but wonderer and adventurer at heart. Anytime I see Route 66 signs, a truck stop (which at 9 years old felt like the coolest place on the planet) I immediately think of him and the adventures we shared. He taught me how to budget, how to read a map and how to plan one hell of a road trip.

He had "laws of the land" that you had to abide by in order to travel with him…

For example, we could order anything we wanted where ever we ate as long as you ate the whole thing – you order it, you eat it!

And you had to know your role –

-The Driver is in control of the radio (no argument on this one… and my grandfather loved Patsy Cline. He had a black cassette tape carrying case with about 30 of his favorite cassette tapes we would rotate throughout our trips – I remember dreading when Pasty would make her way into rotation, but years later she warms my heart and reminds me that my grandfather gave me a deep appreciation for the classics and true country).

-The CoPilot had one job and one job only… look important!

-The Navigator needed to have a map on hand and had to be able to tell you the direction you were headed and what the next move was (yelling MCDONALDS every time you passed one was optional – but we never missed the chance to stop for french fries).

Side note- I learned to barter and negotiate at McDonalds during road trips. Tripping cross country meant a lot of Happy Meals, and that meant occasionally getting duplicate happy meal toys. So our grandpa made us go to the counter and politely ask to exchange our toys for other toys – skills that often led to swapping toys with other kids in the Micky D's play place. Even if we (my older brother and I) couldn't get exactly what we wanted, we knew trading up to a Black or Blue Power Ranger gave us more trading potential than a Yellow Ranger (sorry Trini – you had little trade potential in 4th grade)… back to the story-

This week instead of visiting the beaches of Hawaii, sipping cocktails in Mexico or island hopping in St. Barths I took it back to my roots and my took a page from my grandfathers playbook – and hit the road to see some of our Nations treasures! And loved seeing so many of the millennials living the #VanLife. I am truly envious of those who are taking their early 20's to live off the grid and experience as much as they can while they venture across the US! Is it weird that I'm a homeowner in my early 30's and want to live in a van?!?!

So weeks before the trip I spent my free time on TripAdvisor, National Park Websites and trolling Social Media researching the best routes, destinations and attractions.

What was the best reviewed? These reviews helped prioritize hikes and travel plans!

What was cooler online than in person – like Mirror Lake in Yosemite – not as spectacular in person as online – but helped us add the Emerald Pools to our hiking plans in Yosemite which was one of the highlights!

And also, what would locals suggest – like Donut A Go Go in Mariposa, CA or Oscars Cafe in Springdale, UT!

Then I enlisted a crew of fellow road trip'ers who I knew would enjoy the trip, all bring different personalities to the trip and had an easy going personality that would keep the trip fun and positive – even if weather or unexpected circumstances changed the game plan.

And finally I had a 10 page PDF of the trip mapped out with AirBNB accommodations, routes with addresses mapped out, entry fees, attractions and daily items to accomplish (I know, doesn't really sound relaxing – but I tend to like to do more in one day than most people do in a week so this trip needed structure and a schedule. And details for another post but – our dog is part of our family and with him aging, we wanted to bring him along for the trip! And if anyone has ever traveled with their pet, there is a whole new level of planning involved with making sure your trip is puppy-proof and pet friendly!

(Note – I do not own the photos used here, replacing with my own images in the next posting)

This is the cover page of the trips "Master Plan." Everyone makes a cover page, right?!??! So crazy to look back at the original version and see how so much changed! I carried the full printout with me on the trip and made notes, revisions and updates along the trip – grabbing every map, visitors guide and handout I could so I could update this document the best I could. Can't wait to update this looking back and archive for future use!

A key detail for a comfortable road trip is a comfortable ride – which meant lots of space. With four adult men and a dog, we needed a lot of space – luckily smart packing and our Ford Explorer Sport was clutch in making for a roomy and comfortable ride! We love our Explorer which has the look and feel of a luxury vehicle with captains chairs (perfect for adult travelers), panoramic moon roof for siteseeing on the go and fold flat third row for extra storage! But also the muscle needed for off-roading in Death Valley, snowfall on Tioga Pass and championing the hills and terrain we left in our dust from California, Arizona, Nevada and Utah!

So to guarantee plenty of extra space I want to all new levels of "control freak" and made a packing list of the essentials needed on the trip with recommended extras from expert reviews online! Sure, it sounded odd to pack waterproof jackets, tank tops, water shoes and a hydration pack all for the same trip – but effective planning had wake-up calls with mornings in the 30's to afternoon hikes in the 100's – so we made sure we packed just what we needed (and very little more than what we needed)! The best thing to make sure you have to start… a comfortable sized bag and rubber bands! If you know the size of bag you are bringing you are more realistic with what you can bring, and rubber bands help you consolidate the clothes after you rolled each outfit! I'm a roller in terms of packing! Since we only spend single nights in some of our stops, it's silly to unpack – much easier to grab what you need and keep moving on! We had 8 days on the road so I packed an outfit (socks, underwear, shorts and a shirt) for each day with two wild cards – extra warm for a snow day and casual outfit just incase I didn't want to wear running/hiking shorts everyday!

I was able to fit all of my clothes in my Zoot Sports Triathlon bag, which opens pretty wide which is great for viewing my inventory of clothes and picking out just what I needed for the day!

Since I knew we'd have a significant amount of hikes, I brought two pairs of shoes to rotate through and flip flops (not pictured).

All of the outfits fit and I gained much more space once I rubber banded each outfit together allowing space on the side for extra socks (moisture wicking non-cotton socks reduce odor and are great for long days on your feet), underwear (briefs take up way less space than boxers or boxer briefs), tights for extra warmth if needed (and they were needed) and a few hats for protection from the sun (and the fact that I wasn't going to attempt to brush my hair for all 8 days)!

Sticking to the strict packing list for the basics allowed for extra space for an extra lightweight jacket and sweatpants

And with each person only bringing a backpack, we had plenty of space for pillows, blankets and gadgets which are needed for 21st century travel!

If you're like me and enjoy taking pictures and videos, having extra battery packs, chargers and USB adapters for the car ride keep you fully powered from Point A to Z and every stop along the way.

Then with the vacation days submitted to work, the out of office email notifications ready to send and the car packed up we hit the road!

I can't wait to share the trip with you all day by day, and hope it encourages you to take the trip(s) and fall in love with Mother Nature and the amazing planet we share – and also spend time with family and friends having conversations face to face and interacting in real life – instead of online!

Stay tuned as I break down our trip day by day! Starting in Yosemite Valley, across Tioga Pass, through Death Valley, experiencing Zion, Fire Valley and everything in between!