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9 Things To Do On The Big Sur…

The Big Sur stretches roughly from Carmel to San Simeon along California’s stunning coastline for around 85 miles. It doesn’t have an official start or finish. “Big Sur is more of a state of mind than a place.” This quote from the Lonely Planet guide to California summed it up perfectly. I had read so much about this beautiful stretch of coastline along Highway 1 before I arrived in California but I didn’t expect it to be so cut off from the rest of California, it is literally one winding road with ocean on one side and rocky cliff overhangs or forest on the other. There was pretty much no phone signal on the entire route either. This is something I actually love when I’m away, that feeling of being totally cut off from the rest of the world for a short time to just be able to completely focus on new surroundings, take it all in and relax.

Matt and I drove Highway 1 from San Francisco to Los Angeles, I would really recommend driving south along the Big Sur with the ocean on the right hand side.  All the lay-bys and viewpoints are on this side of the road so it makes it a lot easier to pull over and pull out again when it is busy.

There is so much to see and do on this part of the Pacific Coast Highway, it could be done in one day but the road is pretty small and slow with sharp corners at times. Plus with plenty of viewpoints along the way you definitely don’t want to rush. We stopped for the night at a campground, it really added to the experience. Here are my 9 favourite things to do…

 

1. See elephant seals

Point Piedras Blancas is the place to stop to see an elephant seal rookery. Elephant seals can spend up to 10 months at sea and are able to dive an incredible depth of 1000 – 3000 ft. Males can grow up to 16ft in length and weigh as much as 2300kg. These magnificent creatures are huge and very noisy! Watch males tussling in the water for rights over females while the rest snooze and laze around on the sand. Grunting, snorting and belching are to name just a few of the strange noises that can be heard coming from the beach!  For more information check out: www.elephantseal.org.

 

2. Have a glass of wine at Nepenthe

This lovely little spot has two options for eating and drinking, Nepenthe restaurant or Café Kevah. It is the perfect place or excuse to have a rest on your drive with an afternoon beverage and a chance to take in those stunning views. Both eateries are situated high up with gorgeous views of the rugged coastline and Pacific Ocean. Matt and I chose to visit the restaurant, as it was higher up, the only trouble was the sea mist had come in and through the fog we could see nothing! Still, it was nice to stop off and have a glass of rose. Do an image search online you will see that the views on a clear day are stunning!  (So instead, here’s a photo of me with a glass of wine!)

 

3. Whale watch

There are plenty of opportunities to go on organised whale watching trips along the coastline, Monterey is a great place to book from. We were lucky enough to spot whales all along the Big Sur. If you want to save some money pull into a viewpoint and just watch the horizon, to see whales breaching is an incredible sight,or even just a slight peek of a tail slipping gracefully under the water. Whale Watchers Café at Gorda Springs Resort was a marvellous place for breakfast on the road. With ocean views from the café we ate a hearty breakfast and got to spot whales too!

 

4. Bixby Bridge

This bridge is a very famous landmark on the Big Sur. Built in 1932, it is one of the world’s tallest single span concrete bridges standing proud at 280 ft high. Driving south there is a lay-by on the right hand side just before the bridge, although usually very busy with tourists it is definitely worth stopping to take a photo of this very impressive structure. Whilst I loved this bridge there are others very similar along the route so stop at one of those for views without lots of other people around!

 

5. Go for a walk

There are so many great areas to walk along Highway One; Point Lobos State Natural Reserve was one of my favourites. Rugged coastline with kelp forests home to sea lions and sea otters make for an exciting walk. The park has mapped out trails with plenty of history, hike to Whalers Cove where a whalers cabin still stands and is now a museum. As well as walking buy a permit to snorkel or dive amongst the kelp beds, awesome marine life and underwater caves await. If you are camping in a state park keep hold of your permit as this can be used to park for free in other parks and reserves.

 

6. Pitch a tent (or park up in a van)

One of the cheapest ways to stay overnight on the Big Sur is to camp. We hired a campervan through Wicked Campers and loved having the freedom to explore and stop where we wanted. We stayed overnight at Plaskett Creek campground, just over the road from Sand Dollar Beach. Cooking on a campfire and stargazing was a brilliant experience. The campsite cost a total of $34, a bargain compared to the hotels along the route. There are quite a few campgrounds along the Big Sur, my advise would be to book in advance during peak seasons as pitches at the more popular sites can get reserved very quickly. Having said that a few of the campsites do offer a limited number of pitches to simply turn up and pat for on the day. Take plenty of layers if camping, as it gets quite cold when the fog comes in.

 

7. McWay Falls

This iconic waterfall is definitely worth stopping for, found in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park this beauty is 80ft high and cascades onto the beach below. Park up and follow the half-mile trail to the coast, you can also spot whales at this picture perfect spot. I saw so many images of this iconic beauty before the trip and loved seeing it in real life.  Benches along the trail allow you to sit and take in the beautiful views.

 

 

8. Watch the sunrise at Sand Dollar Beach

What could be better than watching the sunrise over the ocean with fog hanging over the hills behind and not another soul in sight? Waking up early in our camper we strolled over the road from Plaskett Creek campground and straight onto the bluff overlooking this crescent shaped bay. The waves looked iridescent in the low light and the stillness of the early morning was incredible. I wish I had, had a surfboard with me as there were some great little peelers breaking out there!

 

9. The drive

The Big Sur is an iconic route, remember don’t rush the drive, take your time and enjoy! The road can get busy at times and often people behind us wanted to drive faster so we just pulled over and let them carry on. Whether you experience it in the sunshine or the fog it is an epic an journey and a blanket of fog hanging just above the coastline made for awesome photo opportunities. Pull over at every opportunity and take in the scenery. There were fresh fruit stalls at a lot of lay-bys; we bought avocados, blueberries and figs. It was so nice to have a picnic with local produce and stunning views. Mustangs seemed to be a popular choice of car all along this stretch of the Pacific Coast Highway, cruising with the roof down looked like a very cool experience.

 

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Exploring Sequoia National Park

After a 6 hour drive covering 223 miles from Los Angeles in our very cool Wicked campervan we arrived at Lodgepole campground in Sequoia National Park. Reaching the park we stopped at the ranger hut and paid the $20 entrance fee. I was surprised to learn there was a 45 minute drive further to the campground, after such a long drive I thought we had arrived! The final part of the drive was beautiful though and made up for the fact that I was done with sitting still for so long. The road got smaller as it started to wind higher and higher up into the park. Driving through the Giant Forest we got our first sighting of the huge trees that Sequoia is famous for. At some points on the drive, if you looked down you could see tree trunks below and looking up the trees continued well above the road, just incredible. We continued driving higher up until we arrived at Lodgepole campground, here at 6720 feet above sea level the air felt fresh and clean.

 

Pulling up at the ranger hut to check in, I noticed a sign showing that there had been 5 bear break – ins in the campground during the past week. I had read about black bears in the area and the need to put all food and scented items in a bear proof box 24 hours a day which was provided for each pitch. I was excited and apprehensive all at the same time about stumbling across a bear and this made it feel all the more real but I still didn’t think that I would actually be lucky enough to have a bear encounter….

Sequoia works hard to make everybody aware of bears with notices in toilets about being careful with rubbish and stickers on bins reading ‘care for bear’. There is the possibility that if they break into cars they may have to be put down if they become aggressive, by knowing this it made me want to be very conscientious and look after the bears.

We found our pitch amongst the trees, complete with a bench, fire pit with a grate for cooking and a bear box, the rush of the nearby river could be heard in the distance, what a fantastic welcome. I wasted no time in putting most of my belongings into the bear box just to be on the safe side! As we settled into our surroundings the light began to fade, the smell of campfires filled the air encouraging us to set our own up. Lodgepole has a very handy shop within driving distance so we already had our firewood ready to go. All of a sudden we heard the sound of a car horn followed by banging and someone shouting, Matt and I both looked at each other and said at the same time ‘BEAR!’ Rushing over to where the commotion was happening we heard someone saying it was a mother and baby that had been nearby and we just caught a glimpse of them disappearing into the woodland high above the noisy campers. If you come across a bear the best thing to do is apparently stand your ground and make as much noise as you can to scare them off. This explains all the noise we had heard. I couldn’t believe we were only an hour into our stay and had already had a bear sighting, it finally started to sink in that they really were around us! Settling back around the campfire I felt a little uneasy peering into the darkness wondering what was watching us. With nothing but the light from the fire the star trail above was just stunning, laying back on the bench and looking skyward it looked 3D, almost like I could touch each star. Listening to the distant crackles of campfires made me sleepy and after cooking steak and veggies on the fire we retreated to our cosy van for the night.

The following morning we woke up early and sat planning our day with breakfast and coffee. Matt was having a look down towards the river when all of a sudden a bear appeared and strolled along very near to us. He or she didn’t seem to notice us, it was such a special moment as with no one else around we were the only ones to see this beautiful creature.  I was not expecting that at breakfast time!

 

With a plan decided we put on our walking boots and jumped into the van. The first stop was to see General Grant Tree at Grant Grove. This beauty is the second tallest Sequoia tree in the world at 268 feet high by 108 feet in circumference, it is huge and very difficult to get a photo of the whole thing! The tallest by the way is the General Sherman Tree also in Sequoia, standing at 274.9 feet. My advice would be to get to Grant Grove early as we arrived mid morning and it was very busy. The General Grant Tree Trail is a short paved trail leading past the Fallen Monarch a giant hollow Sequoia you can walk through from one end to the other.  Interestingly in the 1800s it was used in many different ways from a hotel to a stable for US Cavalry horses.

Next we decided to drive to Buck Rock lookout a fire lookout tower sat up high at 8500 feet. From what I had read in the Lonely Planet Guide to California it has fantastic views but we didn’t quite make it there….we got to an unpaved road which became very dusty and full of potholes, although it was only a couple of miles to the lookout the potholes were never-ending. So, Matt and I decided to leave the van and attempt to walk the final few miles but in the midday sun it was just too hot and for some reason I had an uneasy feeling, there was no one else around and I had a bit of paranoia about bears! We got round a corner and did spot the tower in the distance; it looked incredible perched high up on a rocky outcrop but was just too far in the heat. There were also huge plumes of smoke from the wildfires that were just incredible to witness. Feeling defeated we reluctantly gave up and missioned back to the van, we hadn’t been walking for that long maybe 45 minutes or so but I was really pleased to see our little camper! We found a shady spot for lunch and drove back to Lodgepole where after checking back in to a new pitch (it was so busy I had to reserve two separate sites) we strolled along the gorgeous alpine stream within the campground and had a chilly but refreshing paddle.

The following day it was my birthday, what a novelty it was to wake up in Sequoia, I had bought a few presents and cards with me from home to open too. With a 5 hour journey ahead of us to San Francisco we were keen to get back on the road but also wanted to make the most of this beautiful National Park, so a birthday hike was on the cards. Setting off early on the 1.7 mile trail to avoid the heat of the sun the walk started just a stones through from where we had been camping. Following the river along through the trees watching out for bears, the walk was very varied. We strolled past alpine meadows, scrambled over rocks and marveled at the huge granite rock formations high above us until we arrived at the falls. We didn’t see another soul on the journey and were pleased to see the falls that marked the end of the trail and still no one else around. It really felt quite magical to be the only ones there. We reached the end of the path and clambered down the huge rock face to sit right by the falls, although not as powerful as probably during the winter months it was beautiful to see and sitting back to take in the view from where we had just walked the valley between the canyon was clear to see. It was such a birthday treat! The day got even better as we were walking back we stopped for a glug of water and peered down to the river where we spotted a bear….we watched in silence as it crossed the river and started to walk up the embankment towards the path we had just walked along on. Holding our breath we took a few steps back as it crossed right over the track and into the undergrowth on the other side. We continued to watch it as it snuffled and foraged. If it had smelt us it didn’t let on. Such an awesome sight!

 

Tips and tricks:

  • The $20 entrance pass into Sequoia lasts for 7 days.
  • I made an online reservation for Lodgepole campground before arriving which was $22 a night.
  • Fuel up when you can as fuel stations can be few and far between, Stony Creek Village had fuel pumps.
  • There was pretty much no phone service in the park, if you are desperate Stony Creek Lodge had free WiFi.
  • Lodgepole has a well-equipped shop, make sure you buy your firewood there and don’t bring it in from somewhere else to help prevent the spread of disease.
  • There are coin operated showers at the visitor centre in Lodgepole, make sure you’ve got some quarters handy!

 

I loved everything about camping in Sequoia, the sights, the smells, and the sounds. Sequoia National Park is perhaps overlooked compared to others such as Yosemite, I had not heard of it until I started researching.  I also read how busy Yosemite can get during the summer so I opted for Sequoia instead. Give it a go, believe me you won’t be disappointed.

For a round up of our California road trip take a look at my previous post: Camping in California with Wicked Campers.

It was back into the mystery machine and onto the next adventure, San Francisco and the Big Sur…

 


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Camping, hiking and pasty eating in the Purbecks…

I love exploring locally; sometimes I think it’s easy to forget what’s on the doorstep. So having had withdrawal symptoms from campervan living in California and with the weekend free Matt and I decided to head to the Purbecks in our van for a mini adventure. The Isle of Purbeck or the Purbecks for short is nestled nicely on the Jurassic coast in Dorset. A UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2001 the Jurassic Coast got its named due to its impressive geology….and runs for 95 miles all the way to Devon. You can actually walk the whole thing along the South West Coast Path.

We stayed at Burnbake campsite near Corfe Castle. The campsite does not take reservations and there are no marked pitches so turn up pick a spot that takes your fancy and that’s it! The campground has a small shop on site, a toilet and shower block, washing up facilities, laundry room, and a pop up café with a tent and log burner, which serves a great English breakfast for £5. The cost was £12 per night for one adult with a tent and car or campervan plus £6 per extra person. Burnbake allows campfires but they must be contained, we hired a fire pit for £4 and bought logs from the shop, perfect!

Worth Matravers was at the top of my list of places to visit. It is a tiny village full of Purbeck stone cottages a duck pond, tea rooms and the Square and Compass pub. From there we followed the coastal path to Winspit quarry on the edge of the cliffs. It is very popular with climbers and also has some very dark, eerie caves to explore. We continued along to the National Coastwatch Institution lookout station and St Aldhelm’s Chapel. This 13th century chapel is still in use today and has very old graffiti on the stone walls inside, some of which from what I could make out were from the 16th century! This lovely walk was around 5 – 6 miles and only one thing was on our mind on the way back…a cider and pasty at the Square and Compass. We made it back to Worth Matravers and went straight to the pub for our well-earned treats! I love the fact that this pub only serves pies and pasties, so simple! It also randomly has a small fossil museum inside, a great showcase of all the amazing fossils and artefacts uncovered along this magnificent stretch of coast.

A Sunday stop off at Lulworth Cove and lunch at the Lulworth Cove Inn was a nice way to finish the weekend before heading home. This perfect horse shoe shaped bay has crystal clear turquoise water and is beautiful all year round. There are some fantastic walks along the cliff top from the cove, we just had enough time to go on my favourite stroll to Durdle Door before we said goodbye.

More things to do in Dorset…

Corfe Castle, towering high above the village of Corfe this is a great place to stop for a photo opportunity, we didn’t have time to climb up but I loved seeing the imposing ruins on the drive to and from the campsite.

Poole harbour is another great spot for exploring, having lunch or for a weekend break. We stayed at Hotel du Vin right in the harbour for Matt’s birthday earlier this year: A weekend in Poole, Dorset the sun was shining and a lovely boat trip around Brownsea Island rounded off the weekend nicely.

Swanage has a steam railway, which travels 6 miles from Swanage to Norden, one of the stops on the line is Corfe Castle, this would make for a great day out! Buy a day ticket or spend an evening dining on it. I’ve not had the chance to go on it yet but I would love to experience the dining train.

If you find yourself in Dorset soon The Swanage and Purbeck Walking Festival is taking place from 19th – 27th September, a good excuse to explore the many walks in this part of the world.

Dorset has the prefect mixture for adventure with coast, valleys, rugged cliff tops and tiny village hideaways to explore. There is so much to do in this beautiful area I still need to go back for more!

 

 


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Camping in California with Wicked Campers…

What could be better than hitting the open road in your own campervan, having a kitchen and bed right there on the road with you means you are totally independent and free to explore…

This is exactly what Matt and I got up to in August in California; a collaboration with Wicked Campers saw us pick up an awesome van ‘Mystery Machine’ from their depot in Los Angeles. With its eye-catching artwork it got a lot of attention! We chatted to so many people, families would ask for photos next to it and people would wave to us on highways, it felt like we were famous! Let me tell you a little bit more about our beauty of a camper, it was a GMC Safari two seater and around 16ft in length it wasn’t too intimidating to drive. The ‘kitchen’, found at the rear of the van came complete with a sink, cool box, storage units full of utensils, pans, crockery, cutlery and a gas burner.  Initially I was a bit sceptical as to whether the cool box would keep all our food chilled. We bought ice every two days to put in it and it did the job brilliantly so there was no need to worry about warm beers and burgers! During the day the van can be used as a seating area with bench seats and ample storage under the seats allowed all our gear to be hidden away. There was a table for indoor and outdoor use and two outdoor chairs, perfect for sitting next to the campfire. At night the seats turned into a large comfy bed. Bedding isn’t provided (something worth remembering if you have a travel budget) having said that at the depot there was a free shelf to help yourself to with all sorts of left over goodies. We found a kettle, perfect for making cups of tea. There was also bedding and pillows from previous owners, although we chose to stop off at a Target to buy pillows, a sheet and a sleeping bag which we unzipped to make into a duvet for two. Cosy.

 

At the time of picking up the van we chose to hire a Sat Nav as an extra add on. I had bought a massive map but for an extra $5 a day it seemed like a no brainer, and we were right as getting out of LA proved a bit of a challenge…we were very grateful for it.

In my previous blog Planning for a Californian Road Trip I mentioned how much I was looking forward to cooking on a campfire, this lived up to my expectations and much more, it chilled down a bit in the evenings so a fire was the perfect way to keep warm and such a great way to experience our surroundings.

We drove just under 1000 miles in eight days and stayed at five different campgrounds with lots of stops in between. Starting with two nights in Sequoia National Park, followed by two nights near San Francisco and finished up with three nights along the Big Sur.

California road trip

 

Campground information:

We stayed at….

Lodgepole Campground in Sequoia National Park

This is a lovely campground right in the National Park. Facilities included a shop, cafe and coin operated showers within driving distance from our pitch. Some tent pitches are right by the Kaweah River and there is a great walk to Tekapah Falls within the campground. Lodgepole is in a great location to see all the sites of Sequoia.  Each pitch had a bench, fire pit and bear box. (More to come about that on my next blog.)

 

San Francisco RV Resort

In the seaside town of Pacifica, within easy walking distance of shops and restaurants and very easy to get into San Francisco; 30 minute bus journey to Daly City followed by 20 minutes on the train. As it sounds, this is a big RV park; we were the smallest RV by about 20ft! It isn’t that pretty to look at but is situated on a bluff with ocean views with free showers and laundry facilities.

 

Sunset Sate Beach Campground

Hidden behind sand dunes we weren’t too sure about this campground when we first arrived, the pitches were a bit close together and dusty but we learnt to love it. The beach was a steep hike over the sand dunes but worth the trek, it felt pretty wild and watching dolphins gracefully play in the waves was brilliant! The family next door to us were lovely offering us firewood and inviting us to join them on the beach for a sunset barbecue.  Our pitch had a bench and fire pit, there were coin operated showers and plug sockets.

 

Plaskett Creek Campground

At the southern end of Big Sur, there were only portaloos as the toilets weren’t in use! I don’t know for definite but I am assuming this was because of the drought, which was going on at the time of our trip. It wasn’t great but by that point we were pretty used to living out of our van so didn’t let it effect us, you can either be positive about these things and just get on with it or choose to ruin your trip by being miserable about it! We took the positive slant and had a great stay here.  Each pitch had a bench and fire pit.  Just over the road is the beautiful Sand Dollar Beach.

 

Carpinteria State Beach Campground

Lovely, clean and right on the beach, we could step straight onto the sand from our pitch!  The beach had coin operated showers and plug sockets. This was our last night in the van and it couldn’t have been in a better place to end it. We watched seals play in the ocean and had prosecco (we are such posh campers!) while watching the sunset. Waking up during the night to the sounds of the waves was wonderful too.

 

Useful things to know:

Firewood – Plaskett Creek and Sunset State beach campgrounds had a ‘camp host’ who lived on site, buy firewood from them instead of buying wood from elsewhere, this helps prevent the spread of disease.

Water – Most of the campgrounds we stayed at had potable water facilities, although we always made sure we had enough with us.

Site full – I mentioned in my previous blog post about booking campgrounds well in advance for the summer season as at peak times everywhere gets fully booked. I was so pleased I had reserved pitches, as each site we turned up at was already full. Definitely something to bear in mind when planning a camping trip in California during the summer season.

Fuel – Fuel up when you can, as there were limited gas stations in Sequoia and along the Big Sur. A lot of the gas stations have a pay at pump machine, I found that my UK credit card would not always work in these but I quickly learnt that you can prepay in the gas station up to the amount you need. If you fill up under the amount then your card only charges to the amount you used.

 

We had a fantastic road trip and loved the quirkiness of our camper, it was so comfy to sleep in and the kitchen had everything we needed to be self-sufficient on the road. It’s not everyday you wake up to watching the sunrise over the ocean from your bed or have the ability to pull over on the side of the Big Sur for a 30 minute nap in your bed! (and get woken up by a Mexican family queuing up outside to have photos next to your van!!)

More California camping and road trip adventures coming up shortly…

 

Somewhere on the Big Sur


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Planning for a Californian road trip…

Matt and I are jumping on a flight tomorrow to Los Angeles for a road trip and camping adventure in California. We are looking to get back to nature with two nights in Sequoia National Park, followed by some city adventures for two nights near San Francisco (on my birthday 🙂 ) and then onto the Pacific Coast Highway for some sun and surf.   We are following the coastal road all the way back down to Los Angeles stopping off along the Big Sur on the way.

California road trip

We are very excited to be collaborating with campervan hire company Wicked. You can’t miss their vans covered in cool artwork. I am looking forward to reporting back about the van and the adventures we have along the way!

While researching the trip I realised that we would be in California during high season and booking campsites well in advance was a good plan as I found that the popular sites especially beach front ones were fully booked a few months ago! Of course many sites don’t have reservations and operate on a first come first serve basis but as we are only there for a short time I decided I would book in advance rather than worry about where we were going to stay on the day.  We have done it this way before in Australia and New Zealand and it was easy peasy to just turn up.

We are staying in a mixture of privately owned campsites, National Parks and State Beach campgrounds. Privately owned campsites are great for shower and laundry facilities. National park ones are perfect for going back to basics and being at one with nature! Often with limited facilities and sometimes no showers, the bonus though is that many of them allow campfires, which I really can’t wait for. The type of van we are using has the ‘kitchen’ in the boot so cooking outside while the sunsets will feel like such a novelty, the weather looks set to be warm and sunny too.

For reserving National Park and State beach campsites I used Reserve America and Recreation.gov.  Both are good for trip planning and show current alerts in the parks. One thing I was surprised to learn about was a black bear warning for the campground I booked in Sequoia National Park. Each pitch comes with a bear proof box and all food, toiletries and anything that has a scent or odour must be placed inside so as not to attract the bears! I am slightly apprehensive and excited at the same time! I would love to see a bear but not too close to our van! Back to the research, Nomadic Matt has some useful blogs on road tripping in America and a good old fashioned map and Lonely Planet guide to California have also been vital in planning this trip.

 

Camping essentials:

From previous camping trips abroad I have discovered a few very useful items that are easy to pack and save a bit of hassle on arrival at your destination…

Anti-bac wipes – I’m a bit of a clean freak so these are perfect for campervan cleaning and also good for cheating on the washing up!

Head torch – A very useful camping tool, especially for finding the way to the toilet in the middle of the night…

Re-sealable bags – Good for storing opened food and anything else you might need to store.

Power pack or car charger – A necessity for charging camera batteries or phones on the road.

Tea bags – Being an English girl I need a good cuppa!

Washing tablets – I hate having to spend on things like this when I’m away!

 

We will be covering around 1000 miles in 7 days; Check back for my adventures, photos and van stories coming very soon…if anyone has any suggestions on places to stop and things to see I’d love to hear them…

 


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Tips and tools for travel bloggers…

I am by no means an expert when it comes to the best tools for travel blogging but it can be a bit daunting when you first think about setting up your own blog, so I thought I would jot down a few tips and tools to get started. Through trial and error these are my trusty go to tools when I’m travelling and when I’m at home editing my work and blogs.

If you are thinking of getting into the world of blogging and want a few suggestions then read on, hopefully I can help…

 

WordPress:

I set my blog up through WordPress, a free blogging platform with the option to upgrade to payable services. It is easy to use and allows you to view your blogs daily stats.  Choose a name and in a few simple clicks you will have the basics ready to go. I’ve read a lot of tips from other bloggers and articles on social media while building up my blog and ideally in terms of social media presence you should be posting ideally at least 2-3 times a week. I am guilty of not doing this! At the moment in all honesty I am only posting once a month. In terms of personal goals this is something I want to improve on.

 

Cameras

Nice clean images are key to making your blog appealing and attractive to your readers I mix up cameras when I’m out and about….

iPhone: I’ve got to say the camera I use the most is the one on my iPhone. I recently upgraded to the iPhone 6 and the image quality is really good.  With the options of panoramic, video and time-lapse it can do so much. I also love the fact that it is discreet, if I am somewhere I don’t want to draw too much attention to the fact that I am taking photos then this is perfect.

Canon 550d: I love this camera! It takes great quality images and is fantastic for capturing long exposures. Compared to the iPhone you obviously really do notice the difference in image quality. I must confess, I’ve not used this camera as much as I should have. I have no excuse, as my husband Matt is a photographer! I tend to put it on automatic settings having not got the confidence to play around with it just yet. Mine is actually a Rebel, the American version of the 550d. After doing some research I discovered that there are different variations of this camera sold in different countries and these equivalents can often work out cheaper, like the one I bought. It is essentially the same camera, just a different name. So if you are on the hunt for one it is worth checking out these different versions.

GoPro: I love the GoPro too; the wide-angle provides really cool images. It is small with very durable housing which is also waterproof and can be used in all sorts of different situations to capture all your adventures. I have mounted mine on the front of my surfboard in Barbados, taken it snorkelling with turtles on the Great Barrier Reef, snowboarding in  New Zealand and in a helicopter on a glacier trip. It is perfect for all weather situations, plus GoPro just got even smaller with the GoPro HERO4 Session. The GoPro also has video mode and time-lapse.  There are all sorts of accessories available for it including long range remote controls and mounts for a ton different activities including for bikes and surfboards.

 

Laptop:

I couldn’t live without my MacBook Air. I have the 11-inch model; it is perfect for travelling due to its  small size and being so lightweight.  Macs are generally more expensive than a PC laptop but well worth it in my opinion as having had PC laptops in the past I have found the life of my Mac has lasted a lot longer (so far!) than any of the other laptops I’ve had before, making it a very good investment.

 

Hard drive:

A hard drive is vital for storing and backing up images and documents. They are great for when you are on the move too as you can buy very compact ones.

I also have an i-Flash HD Drive, which allows you to transfer images, documents and videos between devices. Of course iCloud does this too but the i-Flash drive can be used to transfer between PCs as well. It’s a nifty little gadget perfect for transferring instagrammed images from my phone to my Mac and a handy storage device too.

 

 

 

Apps:

Evernote is brilliant for keeping notes in one place.  It has the ability to create separate folders or ‘notebooks’ to keep everything on the same subject together.  You can add images and sound clips to notes, share notes via email, Twitter, Facebook and many more as well as exporting notes onto your device.  I couldn’t live without out it now.

 

Notebook and pen:

I love nothing more than putting pen to paper, especially if I am at work, as I can’t just whip out my Mac in the galley on an aircraft! It’s also good for giving your eyes a bit of a rest from the glare of your laptop screen. I often find I put all my thoughts and scribbles down on paper first before heading to my Mac, it somehow feels more creative and seems to get my thoughts flowing.  Even with all the modern technology of today there is nothing quite like a good pen and pretty notebook.

 

Social media:

Social media platforms are fantastic for sharing your work, searching for travel inspiration, chatting with other like-minded bloggers and sharing travel tips and inspiration. I use Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Google+, Facebook and Vimeo to promote my blog and chat about all things travel. Using hashtags is key when posting on social media channels; it helps to get whatever you are mentioning noticed. My favourites are #traveltuesday, #wanderlustwednesday, #beachthursday and #frifotos.

 

Travel bloggers:

As well as reading about other bloggers travels and adventures I also love learning from them…these are a few of my favoruites…

Jayne Gorman over at Girl Tweets World has some fantastic inspiration and how to guides on blogging and social media, I love her honest approach and have learnt a lot from her. She has a whole section on her website dedicated to blogging, definitely worth checking out.

Young Adventuress has a marvellous guide to becoming a travel blogger: So you want to be a travel blogger, do you?

A Lady in London, Julie Falconer has written a very helpful book: Blogging basics: How to create a successful blog and build a loyal following. I went to a class of hers at the Traverse travel blogging conference in 2013 (more on this below) and took a lot of very useful information away with me on blogging and how to use social media.

Monica Stott has some brilliant advice on travel blogging over at her blog The Travel Hack.

Wanderlust magazine have some very handy articles on blogging I particularly like this one: Get paid to travel – become a travel blogger.

Mollie Makes have a magazine on all things social media, I love magazines like this. I have been blogging for a couple of years now but there is still a lot more to learn especially in such an ever changing industry.

A great way to delve into the world of travel blogging and to meet other bloggers and brands is to attend conferences. Traverse host awesome travel blogging events. I attended Traverse 2013 in Brighton, not only did it arm me with heaps of information on improving my blog but it also gave me the opportunity to meet fellow bloggers, get an idea of how to potentially make money from my blog, improve my confidence and inspire me to develop my blog further.

Anything I’ve missed? What are your tips and tools for blogging? I would love to hear them…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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A Summer Holiday in France…

A two hour drive from Toulouse airport along winding roads, past sunflower fields and beautiful farmland is the tiny town of Loudet.  So tiny in fact that apart from a church, houses with terracotta roof tiles, chickens and fields there isn’t much else….perfect for escaping everything.  This equaled six days in the Midi – Pyrenees of exploring, drinking red wine and munching on bread and cheese, bliss!

Our Gîte ‘Pyrenees View’ certainly lived up to its name with views of rolling fields and snow capped mountains. Evenings were spent relaxing on the front terrace barbecuing and quaffing on sparkling wine or a tasty rosé while watching the sun go down and the clouds change from dusky pinks to vibrant oranges leaving just a faint outline of the mountains in the distance…

Day 1:

A supermarket was the first thing on the agenda to stock up for the week ahead, especially as the nearest shop from Loudet was around 25 minutes drive. This was followed by a stop off at a boulangerie to get the all important bread and croissants! Arriving at our Gîte via a tiny lane we were greeted by owners Jane and David who gave us a quick tour and a welcome bottle of red. Blue skies, sunshine and 38°C heat meant it was time for a quick dip in the pool.

Surrounded by farmland every morning we would stroll along tiny lanes hardly seeing any traffic. Walks took us past barns with donkeys peeping out, fields of wild flowers and crops, vineyards, buildings with wonky shutters, goats living in a house made from an old barrel and lots of chickens. Apart from cockerels there was pretty much glorious silence and limited wi-fi meant that relaxing and reading was the number one option.

Day 2:

A twenty minute drive to Montréjeau had us peering over the bridge into the fast flowing river below and exploring the local boulangerie and charcuterie. (The equivalent of a butchers in England but with dried and cured meats.) Here we found lots of meats hanging and tons of tasty local cheeses. I loved observing the locals greeting each other with double kisses, so very French! Next it was on to San Giron for a spot of lunch, the highlight for me was dessert; a chocolate mousse which was to die for. Made from dark chocolate and oh so light and fluffy in texture, one thing the French are good at is definitely dessert! A lovely river and waterfalls surrounded this gorgeous town, this was a beautiful characteristic of many of the towns we explored. Leaving San Giron, on a lovely drive along winding road I caught a glimpse of children swimming in a crystal clear stretch of water. Pulling over to explore, a check of the map indicated that this charming little place was Engomer. We strolled along the river’s edge past elders chatting in the shade and buildings on stilts above a weir with pastel coloured shutters. I stopped to take few photos of a small Fromagerie and a man fishing, it was such a picture perfect area and felt somewhat undiscovered.

Day 3:

Day three saw us drive across the border to Spain stopping at Bossòst for a coffee, full of alpine chalets this little town had a very Pyrenean village feel. I was still a little confused as to whether I was in France or Spain it felt like such a novelty to be suddenly in a different country! Continuing through Spain, we drove up further into the mountains along winding roads and down into steep valleys.  Passing Vielha a large ski resort and continuing into the Vielha tunnel, a three-mile stretch through the mountains added more excitement to the journey. Coming out the other side, yet more gorgeous views and alpine rivers greeted us. This signalled a quick stop off by the river and a paddle to cool off from the midday sun, the tranquil rush of water looked very inviting but on dipping my toes in I came to realise it was in fact icy cold! Feeling hungry and as we were in Spain, Tapas was on the cards. The tiny village of Aubert had the answer, so small I’ve not really been able to find out anything about it online. A five minute drive from Vielha in the Aran Valley, or Val d’ Aran the restaurant Roc ‘n’ Cris served up cracking Tapas, so be sure to visit if you ever pass through the area. Unsure what to try and speaking minimal Spanish we asked the lovely waitress to choose a selection for us; she was very excited at this prospect and we were looking forward to being surprised! Starting with bread, mussels and a tuna dish, a plate of tasty looking cured meat and anchovies followed. Octopus and a dish of snails were next, the snails were apparently a very local dish to the area, the waitress checked with us first to see if we wanted them. Having never tried snails before I felt I should…I have to say I am up for trying anything new, but I did struggle with the snails, perhaps thinking about it too much in the process! After much deliberation and picking the smallest one I could I shut my eyes and went for it. I was actually pleasantly surprised as it tasted pretty good, but I left it at just the one! Finally a lamb dish appeared and ending our Tapas selection nicely was a chocolate mousse. It was a delicious selection and such a novelty driving over the border for lunch.

Day 4:

Still not tired of exploring we jumped in the car and drove 32 miles to the pretty town of Arreau; one thing I noticed about all the towns in this area of France is that they all seemed quite untouched by the tourist scene. There were often a few tourist type shops to be found but no sign of ice cream vans or stalls.  Going in between school half terms meant that we hardly saw another soul around, it was nice to feel like we had these beautiful places all to ourselves.

From Arreau we hit the mountain roads towards Bagnères-de-Louchon; signs here indicated that the Tour de France would be using the route. As we meandered up the mountains more signposts displayed the altitude, climbing higher and higher the views became more and more dramatic. Snow capped mountains and steep valleys appeared all around. Stopping at 1563 metres Matt and I jumped on a landmark indicating the altitude for a photo. Following hairpin bends down into a huge valley was an adventure in itself, arriving in Louchon the temperature must have been up above the 30 degree mark so we decided to relax in the shade with a beer. Our mission here was to find the gondola up to the ski resort of Superbagnères; in winter Louchon turns into a bustling place for après ski. Feeling refreshed we walked along the high street and came across the base of the gondola. A word of warning, in the height of the summer the gondola cabins become sweltering so take plenty of water! It takes just 8 minutes for the gondola to climb 1800 metres, just over one mile high, the views of Louchon and the surrounding mountains are fantastic. It felt strange to be standing on a ski resort with no snow, and to see chair lifts lying dormant. Looking just like a scene out of The Sound of Music cows were busy grazing, the bells around their neck majestically ringing. The air felt fresh and clean and although warm there was still snow on the peeks of the higher mountains. Looking out across the vista I spotted a glider far below us, the Pyrenees Mountains certainly have some epic views summer and winter.

Day 5

On our last full day it rained heavily, a trip to a market at nearby Lannemezan came in handy as I bought a very smart umbrella! The market was huge and lined up along many different streets in the town, full of local fruit, vegetables and cheese plus some interesting bric a brac stalls and not forgetting heavenly bread and pastries. It was well worth a visit even though it was pouring down with rain.

Day 6:

Day 6 signalled the end of our break, on the drive back to the airport in Toulouse there was an opportunity to stop off by the sunflower fields, I’ve never seen so many sunflowers, endless fields of yellow finished off by terracotta buildings in the distance. France is just picture perfect and this was a lovely end to a lovely break.

Things to know:

  • A Gîte is the name for holiday accommodation in France, typically the owner will live nearby or often on site and be on hand to welcome you when you arrive and assist when needed.
  • Lunch in France lunch tends to be served in most restaurants between 12pm – 2pm, this is worth bearing mind as after that time you will be hard pushed to find anywhere serving food until dinner time.
  • If you plan to cross the border into Spain take your passport as Police sometimes stop cars for random border checks.
  • The Gondola in Louchon costs €9.50 per adult for a round trip.
  • Lannemezan market is on Wednesday mornings until around midday.