Stockton Island , The Apostle Islands

A Weekend Sailing in the Apostle Islands

I have always dreamed of exploring the Apostle Islands. Located off the shore of the Bayfield Peninsula in Northern Wisconsin, the Apostle Islands are an archipelago of 22 islands each unique and varied formed by ice, wind and waves over millions of years in the heart of Lake Superior. Known for their wild beauty, historic lighthouses, diverse wildlife, boreal forests, wind-blown beaches and stunning sea caves, the Apostle Islands offer endless choices for exploration either by boat, ferry, kayak and once ashore, on foot.

My first visit to the Apostle Islands was 2 years ago with my husband on a weekend trip to Bayfield, Wisconsin. During our visit, we only caught a tiny glimpse of the mysterious Apostle Islands while we took the ferry to Madeline Island, the largest and only inhabited island of the group and not an official part of the 69,372 acre Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. It was that visit that sparked my fascination with the Apostle Islands and my longing to see them by sailboat.

Last year, our neighbors bought a 42-foot sailboat that they keep in Bayfield and they make the trip to the Apostle Islands every weekend in the summer and early fall. We had been invited a few times before but the timing never seemed to work out for us until last weekend. On a whim, my daughter Sophia and I accepted their generous invitation to spend the weekend sailing with them and their two children. I was overjoyed.

Apostle Islands WI

The shore of Madeline Island. Photo taken during August 2016 trip.

Arrival at the Port Superior Marina

We left on Friday afternoon and arrived at the Port Superior Marina just before the sun began to set. Since it was too late to set sail, we spent the first night at the marina and set off for our first island early the next morning. For all my years growing up in Minnesota and near water, I had never slept on a sailboat before nor truly sailed. Ironically, I even spent two summers working at a yacht club on a large Minnesota lake yet never learned to sail. I honestly wasn’t sure what to expect and whether my fast-paced type A personality would be able to handle slowing down and just being still. Would I get restless being on a boat? Would I enjoy it? Would I get motion sickness?  These were the questions that circled my head as we loaded our duffel bags and groceries into the sailboat cabin.  Surprisingly, I was in for an entirely new experience which wound up being much different from what I had imagined and I absolutely loved my time at sail.

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A Revisit to Neuschwanstein Castle

“When life gives you lemons, make lemonade”. I will never forget those words of wisdom which came from a stranger that fateful day in June of 1999 as we rode up the hill to reach Neuschwanstein Castle in a horse and carriage on a dark, rainy day.

It was nearing the end of our week-long trip throughout Germany, following the Romantic Road and visiting as many castles and medieval Bavarian towns as we could possibly cram in to our time off from work. Neuschwanstein was supposed to be the crème de la crème, our last fairytale castle we would see before heading into Switzerland for a few days before flying home. Yet alas we woke up to a thick blanket of fog and rain, shrouding our view of Ludwig II’s masterpiece perched high up above the town of Schwangau surrounded by snow-covered mountains. We had come so far to see Neuschwanstein yet she was nowhere to be found beneath the dark coat of clouds.

I was obviously dismayed about the ugly day and issued a complaint to Paul, my boyfriend at the time. If only I knew what was going on through his head at that moment for this was the day he had planned to ask me to be his wife. It was after my disgruntled complaint about the weather that an older woman next to us said those unforgettable words, almost as if she knew that it was going to be a very special day, a day that would change our lives forever.

We rode up to the castle in silence as I pondered her advice and realized that of course she was right. There was no reason to let the rain ruin our visit and perhaps the rain kept away the hordes of tourists who usually descend upon the castle on a lovely day.

After the tour of the castle, the clouds dissipated and the rain stopped. It still wasn’t perfect but good enough to take a walk around the grounds. We heard that there was a short hike behind the castle to a viewpoint and decided to follow the trail. There was not a soul around but us as we crossed the famous Marienbrücke (Mary’s Bridge) over the Pöllat Gorge and into the thick of the forest. We heard grumbles of thunder off in the distance and feared we were going to get trapped in a storm but continued on up. Perhaps it was a sign of the emotions going on within Paul’s mind as he knew what he was about to do.

We rounded a corner and there sitting majestically upon a steep ridge was the castle. The view was magnificent and took my breath away. It was then that I looked and noticed that Paul was down on one knee and asking me to marry him. It felt absolutely surreal. We had been together for five years and I knew that he was the man I wanted to share my life with. Saying yes was one of the happiest moments of my life until a year later I said “I do”, and then a few years after that we had our two children Max and Sophia.

Bringing our children to the very place where “it all began” was a dream of ours for years. Yet unfortunately a few months before our big trip to Europe, Paul injured his back and couldn’t go. My father ended up taking his place which was very special yet bittersweet knowing that Paul would not be along. Since our castle tickets were booked months in advance, we still went ahead with our plans to see Neuschwanstein.  Although it never felt the same without Paul, I’m still glad I was about the bring the kids. Here is the story of our visit.

Neuschwanstein Castle

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Füssen, Germany

An Afternoon Exploring the Bavarian town of Füssen

Have you ever had one of those unexpected travel surprises?  When on a whim you decide to go check out a place and it ends up being delightfully fantastic? That is how I felt about our unplanned afternoon in Füssen, a historic town at the edge of Bavaria and the end of the Romantic Road. Settled way back in the days of the Roman rule, Füssen’s pastel-colored buildings, artful frescos, cobblestone streets, outdoor cafes and eateries, and medieval churches and castles offers enough old world charm to make any visitor fall in love with her nostalgic beauty. Located only 3.5 kilometers from Schwangau and Ludwig II’s epic castle, Neuschwanstein, Füssen is a wonderful place to visit or base your trip in Bavaria. Had we known about Füssen, we definitely would have planned on more time there.

We arrived at our hotel Landhotel Huberhof in the lush countryside outside of Schwangau mid-afternoon on a Saturday. The village was alive with Germans on holiday riding bikes, eating and drinking beer in the outdoor beer garden and taking in the fresh country air. It was a glorious Saturday afternoon in late June and we certainly didn’t want to waste it.  We had already spent the morning flying to Munich from Paris and then driving an hour and a half to reach Schwangau. It was time to get out and explore our surroundings.

After unpacking our belongings, we decided to go check out the neighboring town of Füssen. My father had passed through Füssen years ago on a driving trip through the heart of Bavaria and remembered it was a neat town. We had no expectations or pre-conceived notions about what we would find. We simply knew that the town is much bigger than tiny Schwangau and thought it would be worth a visit. Little did we know, we would discover a real treasure of a city.

Schwangau, Germany

The stunning countryside surrounding Schwangau.

Schwangau, Germany

Heading towards Füssen, we can see the magical Neuschwanstein, off in the distant foothills.

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A Stay at Landhotel Huberhof in the heart of Schwangau’s Countryside

After an amazing ten days in London and Paris with my mom, sister, and niece, it was hard to say goodbye. We had a magical, unforgettable trip together with three generations but it was time to move on to Part II of our European trip. My daughter Sophia and I boarded a short flight to Munich where we would be meeting up with my son Max and my father to continue our journey through Southern Germany and on to Austria for the next 12 days. The trip was bittersweet as it was planned over a year ago with the intention that my husband Paul would fly with Max and meet us in Munich. It would be our first family trip to Europe. A trip I had dreamed about since the day they were born.

As often happens in life, there were a few unpleasant bumps along the road. Unfortunately a few months before the trip, Paul threw out his back and traveling anywhere was out of the question. We had everything planned and booked. Thankfully my father was able to take his place and despite the disappointment that Paul couldn’t come, there was a silver lining. My dad would be able to spend twelve unexpected yet priceless days with his daughter and his grandchildren.

When we originally planned the trip over a year ago, Paul and I thought hard about where we wanted to go for our children’s first European trip. We wanted to make sure it was memorable and fun for the whole family yet most of all for the kids. Too many big cities and museums would tire them out and we all love being outside in nature. After much consideration of all the amazing places we could visit, we chose Austria as it offered the perfect mix of hiking, mountains, history and castles for our family to enjoy. If we were going to Austria, there was no doubt we would have to show our kids the very spot above Neuschwanstein where Paul proposed to me 19 years ago. It was right on the way to Austria from Munich.

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Warwick Castle

A Day Trip out of London to the Warwick Castle

One of my favorite things to do when I travel is to get out of the big city and take a day trip somewhere in the countryside. As much as I love all the culture, art, museums, restaurants, tourist attractions and shopping there is to do in a city, after a few days I crave some fresh air and peace away from all the crowds and stimulation. It was no different with our recent trip to London. We had planned on four full days in London and knew that we would be able to cover all the things we wanted to do in three, meaning we would have time to do a side trip.

There are many options for day trips outside of London and it all depends on how much you want to spend and what you want to do. The most popular day trip is to Bath, the Windsor Castle and Stonehenge yet this trip can take over ten to twelve long hours to complete and the most economical way to do it is via tour bus. We wanted to do something a little different so instead we opted to hire a private driver for the day. We had used the same driver for our transportation from the airport to central London and Mr. Singh proved to be a fantastic guide.

Normally I am a huge planner however for this trip we decided to wing it. That was probably our first mistake because careful research would have told us that the Windsor Castle – home to the Queen and 900 years of history – was closed on the day we were hoping to visit. It is the most popular castle to see given it is the oldest and largest occupied castle in the world and only an hour and a half drive outside of London. We didn’t realize it was closed until the morning of our day trip so we had to come up with a Plan B immediately. I knew that the girls would love to see a castle over Stonehenge so we decided on the Warwick Castle located about two and a half hours northwest of London. It was going to be a long day but hopefully worth it.

We left at nine am from our perfectly located apartment at the Citadines Trafalgar Square with our driver Mr. Dil Singh in a six passenger SUV. Dil was born in India but has been living in London for years and was a real treat. I sat up front as I like to always talk with the locals to learn as much as I possibly can about where I’m visiting. I told Dil that although we have been enjoying London it was a bit too touristy at this time of year and he wistfully replied “London is like a four bedroom house with 15 people living in it“. I laughed and agreed with his assessment of trying to fight the crowds of people walking the streets of Central London. It was going to be nice to get away from it all for the day.

Getting there 

We took M40 due north passing the rolling green hills of the countryside, talking away.  About an hour into the drive, my niece noticed with concern that the speedometer read 100. Silly me told her not to worry and that we were going 100 kilometers per hour not miles per hour which converts into approximately 62 mph, our standard speed limit on most US Highways. I then launched into a speech on how Europe and most of the world go by km/h and how we are different in that regard. It took our driver Dil three attempts to correct my mistake because I thought he was joking. After all these years I honestly had no idea that England does indeed use miles per hour! When it finally got through my head that we were truly going 100 mph we told him to slow down. He was just going with the flow of traffic but for us, it felt a bit nerve-wracking because we never drive that fast in the US even on huge open highways in the middle of South Dakota. We continued our drive in the slow lane being passed by everyone but at least we felt more relaxed. Poor Dil was mortified that he upset us which we assured him that he did not. It is just one of those cultural differences that comes with traveling (not to mention driving on the other side of the road!).

We arrived at the Warwick Castle just before lunch and it unfortunately began to rain. The skies were dark and gloomy yet it gave the entire place a rather mystical feel like you’d imagine when visiting a medieval castle in the English countryside. Based on the website, I wasn’t sure what to expect with the castle. I had imagined it would be like some over-the-top Disney-like place but it actually ended up being pretty darn cool and a great first castle for the girls to see. Best of all, it wasn’t mobbed with tourists like most of the other attractions we’d seen.

The Warwick Castle was built by William the Conqueror in 1068 on the grounds of a burg (hilltop settlement) dating back to 914. Located in Warwick at the bend of the River Avon, in 2001 the castle was named one of Britain’s “Top 10 Historic Houses and Monuments” by the British Tourist Authority. Its long, fascinating history of well over a thousand years is what brings many tourists to its grounds and you can easily spend an entire day exploring the castle and taking in some of their shows, activities  and attractions.  For us, we only had three hours which was enough to see most of the grounds, visit the Great Hall exhibits and take in some of the Birds of Prey show. We had also purchased tickets to the Castle Dungeon Tour which includes creepy encounters with live actors and special effects but unfortunately our show was unexpectedly canceled. Ironically, a tourist had fainted during the horror show and paramedics had to be called. Maybe it was a little too scary?

The Castle Grounds

The entrance to the Warwick Castle is located at The Stables Courtyard where there is a small restaurant and cafe, gift shop and ticket office. Once you purchase your tickets, you follow the gravel roads that surround the great walls, battlements, towers and turrets of the castle. It is quite majestic! There is a fun maze for the kids surrounding the castle grounds as well as a beautiful park and historic Mill and Engine House all outside the walls and Central Courtyard. If you want to make a day or even a night out of your visit, you can attend some of the shows during the day or evening, and even spend a night at the Tower Suites, Knights Village Lodges or try Medieval Glamping. There is plenty to do and keep you busy.

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The Great Hall

My favorite part of the castle was the Great Hall and State Rooms. It is the only furnished part of the castle and is loaded with history on all the past inhabitants who lived in the castle over the years. There are even wax replicas of some of the most famous residents and at first glance they look eerily real. I could have spent a lot of time inside this part of the castle but the girls were constantly on the go and had more fun running around the maze than reading all the plaques about history.

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The Mill and Engine House

Behind the castle right next to the river lies the Mill and Engine House which is interesting to visit and affords a gorgeous view of the river and the castle’s 64 acres of lush, rolling landscape and gardens. If it wasn’t raining, it would have been lovely to spend time viewing the gardens.

By 1:30 pm, we were all famished and the dining options at the Castle were disappointing. We decided to drive a bit further to Stratford-Upon-Avon, known as “Shakespearetown” since it is the birthplace of William Shakespeare. We arrived around 2 o’clock on a Sunday which happened to be Father’s Day so the town was bustling with activity. We settled on a lovely Italian restaurant for lunch and only had a few minutes to run over and peak at Shakespeare’s birthplace and family home. We regretted not having more time because Stratford-Upon-Avon is a lovely, charming town that we just happened to fall upon. Next time as I always like to say!

We arrived back in London a little past six exhausted from such a long day of travel but a bit refreshed. The country air had done us well! It was a quick shower, off to dinner and bed way too late as usual. But of course it was all very worth showing the girls their very first castle.

If you go:

Stay: Rent a studio or roomy two bedroom apartment at the Citadines Trafalgar Square. The location could not be more perfect as you are within walking distance to all the main attractions and tons of shopping and dining options. This is the second time I’ve stayed at this hotel and if I go back, I will stay there again. Tip: Ask for an apartment on a lower level if you are going in the summer as the air-conditioning isn’t great and these rooms are generally cooler.

You can also stay at one of the available lodging near the castle if you truly want to take it all in. I personally think the glamping option would be a blast.

See: The Warwick Castle is an excellent option for children. Plan on a minimum of 2 1/2 – 3 hours to visit the castle however there are plenty of other activities you can do if you want to make a day out of it. The Castle offers birds of prey shows, a dungeon show, and much more. Plus it has a lovely park behind the castle for a picnic if the weather is nice. If you book your tickets in advance online, you can save 30% which is huge as the castle tour is not cheap.

Learn: To learn more about the castle and view all the different attractions, visit www.warwick-castle.com

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Highlights of Our Three-Week Family Trip to Europe

I will never forget the one-page article I read decades ago in Newsweek by a prominent female journalist about the importance of transgenerational travel and how it changed her life. I was in my late 20s at the time, living and working in Chicago and had just returned from skiing in the French Alps with my parents. I was soon to be married and start a family of my own yet I could not let go of the love and joy I felt traveling with my parents as an adult. The article talked about how the writer had traveled the world with her mother well into her mother’s 80s and how that time together journeying around the world were some of their most sacred, special times ever together as mother and child. It struck a chord with my soul for I too had always traveled with my parents and they were the ones who introduced me to travel at a young age and gave me my wanderlust soul.

Decades and trips later, I have continued to travel with my parents to such far-reaching places as the Himalayas of Nepal, the Andes of South America, the perched villages of Provence and the European cities of Prague, Paris and London adding my sister into the mix. These times together have been some of the most sacred memories of my life and without question our shared love of travel meant that at some point we would have to introduce our own children to exploring the world.

The idea of a transgenerational trip to Europe launched a few years back when my mom, sister and I did a trip to London, Paris and the south of France. We knew that we wanted to do a girl’s trip once again with my mom yet include our daughters. We just needed to wait until they reached the age where they could handle all the walking and traveling. With my daughter Sophia at the age of 11 and my niece Hanna turning 13, this summer was the prefect time to do a three-generational trip to Europe and it was planned.

As the time for our departure approached, there was a last minute change of plans. My husband had planned on flying over to Europe with our son Max to meet up with us at the end of the girl’s trip yet he injured his back and couldn’t go. Since the trip was already planned and mostly paid for, we changed plans and had my father fly over to Europe with Max and take my husband’s place. We would be doing another transgenerational trip, this time with my dad, my son and daughter, throughout Germany and Austria. Despite the disappointment that Paul couldn’t go on the trip, there was a silver lining. My dad was able to come and get to spend 13 days with his grandkids exploring the Austrian Alps.

All in all, it was an absolutely amazing trip with lots of silly travel mishaps, magnificent moments and fun stories along the way. It will take me quite some time to put the entire journey into words but I’m excited to start sharing our trip with this first post on some of the main highlights. I hope you enjoy!

Our route: First a flight from Minneapolis to JFK then London. Four days in London with a day trip to Warwick. Next the Eurostar to Lille, the TGV to Paris and then a flight to Munich where we met my dad and Max and picked up our car. The rest a driving tour through Germany and Austria.

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Kakamega Rainforest, Kakamega, Kenya

Adventure Awaits: Europe Bound!

Today, as I set off on a three week transatlantic, transgenerational adventure I reflect on what adventure means to me and think about this post I wrote for LifeStraw’s “Adventure Awaits” campaign. Reaching this point has been bittersweet with many mishaps and silver linings along the way. It will take another full blog post to discuss all that has gone on over the past few months. That said, I am thrilled to be bringing 11-year-old Sophia on her first trip to Europe along with my mom, sister and 13-year-old niece. We will be starting in London, taking the chunnel to Lille and then a train to Paris, where it all began for me. I went to Paris when I was 13 and decided on the spot that I would learn French and live in Paris someday which I did seven years later. That fateful trip changed my life and began a lifelong love of travel and exploring.

My husband was supposed to join me and Sophia with our 13-year-old son Max in Munich after my family left. However a turn of events which has left him at home with back pain for the past month means my 75-year-old dad will be taking his place. My dad will fly to Germany with Max, pick me and Sophia up at the airport where we will continue our journey through Germany and the mountains of Austria for the next ten days.

I cannot express the gratitude that my kids will be able to spend this special time with their grandparents. I am certain it will be an unforgettable trip which I deeply hope changes their lives and makes them fall in love with seeing the world as much as me. In the meantime, I will leave you with this post and all will be quiet on the blog for the next month. I look forward to taking lots of pictures and will have many stories to tell upon my return. Bon Voyage!

 

What Adventure Means to Me

To me, adventure means freedom. Freedom to dive in and to completely let go, living in the moment and forgetting my to do list. Freedom to feel alive, like my true self, and like I’m ten again. Adventure feeds my soul with curiosity, passion and unleashes a zest for life that makes my heart sing. For me, adventure means everything and is my world.

There is no better place I can embrace adventure than the outdoors and exploring the world. Being immersed in nature or traveling to new places brings adventure to life. Whether it is hiking in the Himalayas, learning to surf in Nicaragua, walking with the Maasai in Tanzania or simply exploring my own backyard in Minnesota, adventure awaits and can always be found.

Last February, I had the honor of traveling to Kenya with LifeStraw to join the Follow the Liters campaign to reach the one-millionth child to receive safe drinking water. LifeStraw began the Follow the Liters program four years ago in Western Kenya after realizing they could be a catalyst for positive change throughout the region. Children were getting sick and missing many days of school due to waterborne diseases and illness caused by drinking unsafe water. Some were even dying. The need was immense, and LifeStraw had the answer.

LifeStraw1million Campaign Kenya

I heard about LifeStraw’s Follow the Liters campaign through social media and discovered that they were running a contest to pick three adventurous storytellers to join the trip to Western Kenya to help document the campaign. I put together a video of my work, crossed my fingers I’d be selected and was thrilled to win a spot on their upcoming trip. I had never been to Kenya before and could hardly wait for the adventure to begin.

I left for Kenya on a Thursday afternoon feeling the normal pre-trip jitters of an exceptionally long 24 hours of travel ahead. I had a packet of detailed information about the program and the campaign but that was all I honestly knew. I was traveling alone and would meet up with ten of the 130 members of the international LifeStraw team in Amsterdam to continue our journey. I was taking a big step into the unknown, having no idea of what lay ahead for the next seven days. Thankfully I had done a lot of these kinds of trips before. In my view, the further I go out of my comfort zone, the more alive and adventurous I feel. These kinds of experiences are always the ones in which I learn and grow the most. These are the adventures that I live for.

We landed in Nairobi to a sea of darkness and sparkling lights. It was already ten o’clock in the evening and we would spend the night at a hotel before continuing our journey to Western Kenya in the morning. Despite the jet lag and pure excitement, I was so exhausted from all the flying that I slept peacefully. The next morning, we boarded a domestic flight to Kisumu, and then continued by car for another hour and a half to reach our base in Kakamega. If reaching Kakamega was an adventure, getting out in the field and visiting the schools would be even more exciting. Some of us would travel hours on bumpy gravel roads each day while others traveled by small boat to reach the most remote schools in the area. A few people on our international team had never left their home country let alone go to Africa. Most of us had no idea what we had in store for the next week.

When we finally arrived at our hotel, we were welcomed with song and dance by the local Kenya staff, all wearing their blue LifeStraw t-shirts. I would soon discover that song and dance is an essential part of Kenyan life as we would be singing and dancing all week long with the school children. We spent the next two days training and getting to know our amazing international teams.

The highlight of the weekend was the group hike to the Kakamega Rainforest on Sunday. After we completed a long day of technical training, we loaded up into a long caravan of cars and headed to the outskirts of town where we did a forty-minute steep hike up to the top of Kakamega Hill. The views on top were absolutely stunning as all you could see where the lush, green tops of the trees. Somewhere out there in the sea of green lived the children of the schools we would be visiting over the next week.

Kakamega Rainforest, Kakamega, Kenya

Monday was the first day of the campaign and I was up at the crack of dawn hardly able to contain my excitement and anticipation for the week ahead. Although the sky was still an inky black, the world outside my window was alive with noise and commotion as drivers rolled into the parking lot thumping African rap music and fellow LifeStraw staff talked robustly as we all began to start our day. The smell of breakfast being served two floors below crept through the cracks of my door. Despite the early morning hour and my fatigue, the exhilaration of the adventure ahead filled my veins with a rush of adrenaline. I could hardly wait. Little did I know what a massive operation this would be and how incredibly inspired I’d feel by my time in Kenya. By the end of the week, we reached our goal and it was a monumental feeling to know that now 1,015,652 kids at 1,621 schools now have safe water.

LifeStraw1million Campaign Kenya

Demonstrating washing hands with safe water

When my flight took off over the African savannah I reflected on the miraculous realization that a week can truly change your life. I took a leap of faith when I boarded the first flight to Africa only seven day prior, feeling uncertain of the adventure and my own personal journey that loomed ahead. Yet I realized that it is only through taking chances that we will grow and thrive as a human being. The beauty of adventure is it can always be found for those who seek it, trust it and are willing to take the leap.

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Backpacking with a Purpose with Operation Groundswell

For the past two years, I’ve been a proud member of Impact Travel Alliance, a global community of change makers, passionate about transforming the travel industry into a force for good. Through this amazing network of sustainable travel organizations, writers and travel enthusiasts around the globe, I’ve learned a lot about how we can use travel to make the world a better place.

For the next several months, I am working on putting together a searchable database of the best ethical impact-focused and sustainable travel organizations on the planet. While I’m researching these different organizations, I will be sharing guest posts to uncover each organization’s unique mission and how you can travel for good. This guest post is written by fellow Impact Travel Alliance Media Network member Marissa Sutera (creator of Little Things Travel Blog) who introduces us to Operation Groundswell a Toronto-based organization whose mission is to create a more equitable, just, and sustainable world through travel and backpacking with a purpose.

Operation Groundswell

Operation Groundswell Ecuador trip

Backpacking with a Purpose

When seeking out more purposeful work to do while traveling, it can be challenging to dig deep enough to find the best route to take and the organizations that are truly carrying out positive work. In this interview you’ll hear from Justine Abigail Yu, Communications and Marketing Director at Operation Groundswell, who will be sharing her insight into what questions to ask when volunteering abroad, where to begin, and how to know what sort of impact you will make.

Operation Groundswell is a non-profit organization that facilitates experiential education programs on a host of social justice issues around the world. With ethical travel at the crux of their philosophy, they always work in partnership with local non-profits and charities on community-requested projects to ensure true sustainability. Their aim is to build a community of “backpacktivists” that are socially, environmentally, and politically aware of their impact in the communities they travel to and live in. Their programs are intentionally designed to uncover the intricacies and on-the-ground realities of each region they go to. With ethical travel at the crux of their philosophy, they always work in partnership with local non-profits and charities on community-requested projects to ensure true sustainability.

Their aim is to build a community of “backpacktivists” that are socially, environmentally, and politically aware of their impact in the communities they travel to and live in.

Operation Groundswell

Meeting with our partners at De La Gente, a coffee cooperative in San Miguel Escobar in Guatemala

How can someone seeking a volunteer program abroad determine if they will actually be making a difference?

First and foremost, whatever volunteer project you work on abroad should be done in partnership with the local community. If you want to make even the slightest difference, be sure to find an organization that puts the needs of the local community first. Contributing to a project that your host community actually wants and needs is the first step towards responsible international volunteering.

But it’s also important to set realistic expectations of what exactly “making a difference” means. For many people, this requires a bit of a rethink. You’d be surprised (or maybe not) how many volunteers going abroad expect to “save Africa”, or Asia, or Latin America. And that’s just not the reality.

The majority of volunteer programs are often short-term projects that range from one week to a few months. So when you’re seeking a volunteer program abroad, consider the time you’ll be spending abroad and align that with your expectations. Because real talk – if you’re only going to be spending one or two-weeks in any given country or community, you may not actually make that much of a difference.

You’ll accomplish some things, of course: you’ll likely gain a deeper understanding of the complexity of development and what it takes to actually achieve social change, you’ll make a strong connection with a handful of people who you will hopefully stay in touch with, and you’ll contribute in some small way to a project.

But honestly, you’ll likely leave with more questions than answers. And that’s ok. This is a process.

“Change doesn’t happen overnight or even in a couple of weeks or months. Often, the work that you do when you return home, as a result of what you learned abroad, will be where you make the most difference.”

Just remember to have humility when taking part in work like this!

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Ignite

Meet Ignite: Journeys that Connect, Inspire and Transform

Over the past decade I have been fortunate to have been able to travel the world and also do good along the way. For me, it all began during that fateful trip to Nepal in 2010. I had gone on four different volunteer trips before Nepal but for some reason this trip truly changed my life and made me realize that even I can make a difference and impact in people’s lives. After returning from the trip, I engaged my children in helping me raise $4,000 to open up a reading center in rural Nepal through the non-profit organization  Read Global. I realized that little things can make a big difference and have a ripple effect within a community. I was hooked. And, I’ve realized that I am not the only one.

There is a growing market for impact-based travel as more people like myself want to travel and do good. However, finding those opportunities can be a bit daunting especially ensuring that “the doing good” is truly doing more good than damage.  For instance, there has been a call by many international children’s welfare organizations to put an end to orphanage volunteering as it can have a negative impact on vulnerable children. In the past, I have volunteered with children in developing countries and wasn’t fully aware of some of the potential consequences and ethical complications until I became more involved in social justice work.

Over the next several months, I am working on putting together a list of the best ethical impact-focused and sustainable travel organizations around the globe. While I’m researching these different organizations, I am rounding up guest posts to uncover each organization’s unique mission and how you can travel for good. This guest post is written by the team at Ignite, an organization whose mission is to provide experiences that benefit humanity and the planet.

Ignite Journeys

Hiking in Nicaragua. Photo credit: Ignite

Ignite: Journeys that Connect, Inspire and Transform

There is a growing demand among travelers to engage in travel for good. More than $2 billion is spent annually on impact-focused travel and year-over-year demand continues to increase, as people look for something more than a stay at an all-inclusive resort. They want to travel responsibly and support sustainable development around the world.

Ignite is energized by this growing demand to pursue purpose, social responsibility and global citizenship. Fundamentally, Ignite is a people development company. We help people become the best versions of themselves through purposeful journeys that combine cultural immersion and adventure. We provide these journeys for individual travelers and we also work with companies who offer our journeys as a way to recognize and develop their employees.

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Street Art Minneapolis

My Epic Guide to Exploring Street Art in South Minneapolis

Despite living in Minneapolis for decades, I’m embarrassed to admit that I know little about my own city outside of my home and life in Southwest Minneapolis. Blame it on years of raising a family or perhaps just my own tendency to stay where things are familiar and comfortable. But I found it ironic that as a world traveler and explorer at heart, I know little the dynamic culture and art in my very own backyard. Just last November, I spent three full days in Valparaiso, Chile exploring its vibrant street art scene. So why not do the same justice in my own home town?

Minneapolis is a huge, diverse city with many different neighborhoods and cultures. Although highly Scandinavian in heritage (there are too many “sons’ to name – Anderson, Johnson, Olson, etc), today Minnesota can boast being home to over 400,000 immigrants from around the world. In fact, per the City of Minneapolis’ most recent census the ten largest groups of foreign-born residents in Minnesota are (in descending order): Mexico, India, Laos, Somalia, Vietnam, China, Thailand (including Hmong), Ethiopia, Korea, and Canada. Believe it or not, Minneapolis has the largest Somali population outside of Somalia.

Given such a cultural melting pot, it is no wonder that Minneapolis has some of the richest street art and murals in the upper Midwest. During a recent self-made tour of South and Southwest Minneapolis, I discovered hundreds of colorful, impressive street art painted across the walls, buildings and garages of the city. I was so incredibly inspired and awe-struck by the incredible art I saw that a newfound love and devotion to my city began.

I have ignored you for too long, Minneapolis. It is now time that I start to share with the world your beauty, richness and culture. Better yet, I too will learn along the way.

The idea for this series on street art began when I decided to look out the car window and notice what I saw. I began to see that there was street art in many unexpected places and there was a lot of it. I did some research on the internet and found that there are not many up to date posts or articles about Minneapolis’ vibrant street art scene. I jotted down a few addresses that I found from the City of Minneapolis’ interactive street art guide (The Public “ Art Map”) but found that a lot of the art had changed.

So I decided to make my own street art guide, neighborhood by neighborhood, starting with what I know best: South and Southwest Minneapolis. Over time, I hope to hit North, Northeast and other parts of the city to complete the guide and even go across the river to neighboring St. Paul to see what kind of street art is over there. In this one sweep, I found over 80 murals so I had to cut it down to my personal favorites. Please feel free to add any locations of your favorites in the comments. I also had a hard time tracking down the artists of each work. Perhaps that will be a project for the next post.

Without further ado, here is my Epic Guide to exploring street art in South Minneapolis. Enjoy

Street Art Guide Part 1

Starting point:  Lyndale and 38th Street

Mode of transportation: Drive, bike or walk. The complete route covers over 4 miles on mostly urban streets so driving is easiest. However if you do chose to bike (Minneapolis is a very bike-friendly city) be aware that these are very busy streets without dedicated bike lanes. If you want to bike along biker-friendly streets running parallel check out this site for a safer, more pleasant route. If you drive, street parking is very easy and I simply pulled over at each work of art. Finally, Minneapolis is a great walking city and I always love to explore a place on foot. Just don’t do it in the dead of winter! You’ll be very cold!

To complete this portion below, the total distance is: Around 2.5 miles

Time to drive: approximately 10 minutes without stops.

Time to bike: approximately 12 minutes without stops.

Time to walk: approximately 45 minutes depending on speed.

Starting at Lyndale Avenue, a major north-south thoroughfare that cuts through the city, head north towards uptown.

CULTURE Minnesota United States

The Five Best Family Hikes Along Minnesota’s North Shore

With the arrival of spring in Minnesota, there is no better time than now to start planning your next visit to the gorgeous North Shore of Lake Superior.  Less than four hours away from the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, lay hundreds of opportunities to explore pure and relatively untouched nature. Extending for 150 miles along the rocky shoreline of Lake Superior from Duluth to Canada, the North Shore is a place of unspoiled beauty and pristine nature. Home to a multitude of scenic waterfalls, rivers, state parks and the 310-mile long Superior Hiking Trail, it is a hikers paradise and offers a treasure trove of opportunities to explore wild, relatively untouched nature.

The North Shore has been a special place all my life. Every fall since I was a baby, my parents would pack up our old station wagon and do the drive north to spend a weekend enjoying the splendid fall colors and hiking the wonderful trails. This tradition started before I could walk and ended when I left for college at the age of 18. Fast forward several years, the North Shore has once again become a place I visit often with my own family and our family hikes have continued.

For the past four years, we have been visiting with my children and have discovered the very best hikes that the entire family will enjoy.   This list of my top five favorites is a great start to creating family memories of your own. Feel free to add your favorites in the comments section.

 

Map of North Shore

Photo credit: NorthShoreVisitor.com.  

 

1. Gooseberry Falls

Description: Gooseberry Falls is a beautiful hike along the Gooseberry River which affords stunning views of waterfalls and lovely forest. There is a nice easy hike along the falls for all abilities and more moderate hiking if you prefer to go further. It can be slippery when wet.

Location: 12 miles northeast of Two Harbors along highway 61

Length of Hike: About five miles roundtrip (however entire park has around 18 miles of trails if you want to go further).

Highlights: The best part of this hike is exploring the cascading waterfalls and stopping to enjoy the fascinating roots of the tree trunks and forest flowers along the trail. It is a nice place to also bring along a picnic.

Tip: The trail alongside Gooseberry Falls is relatively easy and somewhat kid-friendly given the steps (but remember no guard rails or safety fences!). If you want to really explore this fabulous park, there are footpaths for miles on end on the other side following the river upstream.

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Vail Resort

Travel Guide: How to Make the First Family Ski Trip to Colorado a Success

This year we decided to try something new for our family spring break. Instead of flying south to the sun, sand and beach that most Minnesotans crave by this time of year, we opted to head west for our first family ski trip to Colorado.

Growing up in Minnesota, Colorado has always been a popular place for spring break given its proximity, variety of terrain, cheap flight options and the ability to even gut it out and do the drive (you can make it in around 15-16 hours). As an avid skier, I made the drive to Colorado at least a half a dozen times over the years and most recently have enjoyed the short two hour non-stop flights from Minneapolis-St.Paul International Airport (MSP) to Denver. The launch of more no-frills airlines into MSP such as Sun Country, Frontier, and no-frills Spirit Airlines have put pressure on hub-based Delta to keep prices down. All that means Colorado is very accessible yet a family ski vacation is not cheap. Adding on car rental, lift tickets, lodging, food, gear (if you have to rent it) and ski lessons (if necessary) can make a family ski trip to Colorado a very expensive one.

I confess to being a bit reluctant about the notion of skiing in April given our notoriously long, cold winter in Minnesota. However spring skiing in Colorado proved to be an extremely fun, memorable family vacation and although we weren’t wearing our swim suits on the beach the weather in Colorado was equally delightful with baby blue skies, bright, warm sun and fresh mountain air kissing our face. In fact, we had so much fun that we agreed to do it all again next year.

So how did we ensure that our first big ski trip to Colorado would be a success? With careful planning, research and a bit of luck.

Here are my top 6 tips on how to have a fabulous, memorable family ski trip without busting the bank. 

All smiles for a family shot at Mid Vail

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