Prep for Your Road Trip: 15 Tips for Getting Off the Beaten Path

Prep for Your Road Trip: 15 Tips for Getting Off the Beaten Path

Hints for hiking, biking, paddling, packing and picking your destination

It seems like summer 2020 is shaping up to be the Road Trip Summer. I’m having flashbacks to my childhood, with me and my two sisters in the back seat of the green Ford Fairmont station wagon that was packed to the hilt.

We played “Slug Bug,” the license plate game (bonus points for Alaska, never did see one from Hawaii), and my parents’ favorite, “no touch, no talk,” as we headed Up North in Michigan.

Of course road trips now are WAY different than back in the days of AM radio, an 8-track tape player and no GPS – yep, totally dating myself!

While car comforts have definitely improved, many of the types of things we did on road trips back then are similar to what my husband and I do now: having picnics at roadside parks, checking out viewpoints with signage about the habitat and/or history, and staying in “rustic” lodging.

As more people (re)discover the appeal of road trips and outdoor activities, it seems inevitable that the most popular and easily reachable outdoor destinations will be busier than they’ve ever been.

Although I’m excited that more people are enjoying being outdoors – I believe fresh air and sunshine combined with being active is good for just about everyone – being at a packed viewpoint with dozens of strangers may not be the healthiest activity right now. So if you’re looking to get “off the beaten path” this summer, here are some tips to help you prepare so you can make the most of it!

3 Hiking Prep Tips

  1. Learn about the location where you’re planning to hike, and bring a map. How rugged is the trail, how steep is it, what are the weather conditions usually like? In Colorado, thunderstorms roll in by early afternoon on many summer days, which takes a lot of visitors by surprise since we wake up to blue skies pretty much every morning.
  2. Be realistic about how far you can hike. If you’re used to walking 3 miles on pavement or fairly flat ground at home, you may be surprised how far 3 miles seems on an unfamiliar trail, and how long it takes. When I’m walking around my neighborhood, it takes me about 15-20 minutes to walk a mile. On a trail, it can take 25 minutes to an hour to walk a mile! Try shorter trails to start and see how you (and others in your group) feel.
  3. Bring more water and snacks than you think you need, along with the “essentials”, to carry in a backpack if you’re planning to go more than a mile from your car.
hiking with a backpack
A fully stocked backpack goes with me on every hike – including plenty of water and snacks!

3 Biking Prep Tips

  1. Think ahead about how much biking you’re planning to do. If it’ll be more than an hour or so, and/or you’ll be riding on multiple days, consider bringing bike shorts with padding, and tops that will be comfortable when you’re leaned over and reaching for handlebars.
  2. If you don’t have your own bike, borrow or rent one locally and go for a few rides in familiar places before your trip.
  3. Find out what the terrain is like where you plan to bike. Are there rolling hills? Will you be riding on pavement, gravel and/or dirt? Knowing what you’ll be facing ahead of time can help you prepare mentally.
mountain bike
Know what kind of terrain you’ll be biking on during your trip – the rocky and sandy trails in Moab, Utah, are perfect for mountain bikes!

3 Paddling Prep Tips

  1. If you’re trying a stand-up paddleboard (SUP) or kayak for the first time, take a lesson if possible.
  2. Take a water bottle with a loop and clip that you can attach to the board or boat. If you tip, you don’t want your water to go into the water!
  3. Pack a synthetic top to wear over your bathing suit and under the PFD. It’ll be more comfortable than having the PFD directly on your skin, and if a cool breeze blows in, it’ll keep you a bit warmer.
Paddling in Alaska required several layers of clothing – even in July!

3 Packing Tips

  1. Bring phone chargers and all of the personal hygiene items you may need, especially if you prefer certain brands. Stores in small towns often have limited selections of electronics and toiletries.
  2. Include at least one clothing item for each “season” and a jacket if you’re going anywhere in the U.S. besides the deep South. It gets pretty chilly at night in remote locations across most of the country.
  3. Upgrade your cooler, if you haven’t already. Newer “rotomolded” models with serious insulation power and tight sealing lids are more expensive than Igloos, but they keep your food and beverages cold much longer. Yeti is one of the best-known brands, though there are less expensive alternatives.

3 “Off the Beaten Path” Destination Tips

  1. Check out non-National Park destinations to avoid crowds. For example, Bureau of Land Management recreation areas, especially in the Western U.S., have some incredible hikes, and historical sites too. In fact, BLM manages our National Scenic and Historic Trails, and manages more miles of historic trails than any other agency (yep, even more than the National Park Service).
  2. If you’re a bird nerd, find a National Wildlife Refuge that is on the flyway for a variety of species. Many refuges have networks of trails and information about the birds (and fish and other wildlife) that live and pass through the area.
  3. Seek out local and state park alternatives. Colorado has 41 state parks, Virginia (where I lived for 9 years) has 38 state parks, and Michigan (where I grew up) has more than 100 state parks! Many states also have designated wildlife areas or refuges that have trails too.
Aztec National Monument
These Aztec ruins are a National Monument site, which is near the very popular Mesa Verde National Park and yet doesn’t get nearly as many visitors.

I hope that helps you have more fun this summer. Most of all, be healthy, stay safe and have fun!

FYI: Blog posts by Becki Rupp and Trailblazer Wellness LLC are for informational purposes only and may not be the best fit for you and your personal situation. Information included in these posts shall not be construed as medical advice. The information and education provided here is not intended or implied to supplement or replace professional medical treatment, advice, and/or diagnosis. Always check with your own physician or medical professional before trying or implementing any information read in our blog posts.

Want to get regular updates from me? Join my email list by filling out the the form below:

10 Habits of Active Travelers

10 Habits of Active Travelers

How the habits you build at home pay off on the road

Habits are all the rage right now – dozens of books on Amazon explain why habits are important in helping you reach your goals, and how to create those habits.

Two of my favorites are Tiny Habits by BJ Fogg and Atomic Habits by James Clear. Both offer practical and simple ways to layer in new habits that could have a positive impact on your life and goals.

Many examples of habits focus on self-improvement in health, work and skill development. Plus the word habit implies something you do regularly. So how do habits apply to traveling? For many of us traveling is something we do for fun, and it’s an occasional activity.  

Yet the habits we cultivate during our non-travel time can make a difference in our travel experience. If you’re in the habit of taking stairs in your daily life, you’ll be more comfortable taking stairs at your destination. If you’re in the habit of carrying water and healthy snacks when you’re out and about your hometown, you’re more likely to remember to bring them on a longer trip.

Two principles James Clear included in his book are “make it easy” and “make it obvious.” He also gives examples of short and simple habits that “kick start” a more complex or more difficult habit.

With those concepts in mind, here are 10 habits to get into now that will serve you well when you travel.

1. Have walking shoes handy – and use them often.

I keep a spare pair in my car so if I’m parked in one place and need to go somewhere else nearby, I can put on more comfortable shoes if I need to.

When you’re traveling you’ll probably be walking more than usual. When you get in the habit of walking regularly at home, you’ll be ready to go the extra mile.

2. Take the stairs when you can.

This will prepare you for the many popular sites around the world that were built before elevators were created. One of my favorite memories is climbing the Mayan ruins in Belize! The steps were uneven and narrow, though the payoff was priceless for the experience and the views you gain.

3. Carry a water bottle with you.

Sure, many places around the world sell bottled water, but the waste adds up exponentially. If you’re traveling to an area where tap water isn’t potable, bring a bottle with a filter (REI carries several models).

4. Pack healthy snacks in your bag.

My husband insists on this because I am prone to getting hangry! If you know which snacks you enjoy and travel well at home, you’ll probably be able to find something comparable at your destination.

Plus it’s fun to try local snacks in new places. My husband and I got a 6-month subscription for Universal Yums from our friends, and it was fascinating to try chips from Greece and candy from Thailand!

5. Do a map check regularly.

I’ll admit it, I’m a total map geek. I get a paper map everywhere I travel, and cross-check it with my mobile phone map.

If you use a GPS in your car, periodically take a different route to a familiar location and keep an eye on how the roads and land features appear on the screen. Walk around your hometown using a map app on your phone, like, Gaia or Google Maps. Seeing how the screen correlates to familiar territory will help you “translate” how it works in an unfamiliar place.

6. Notice landmarks at intersections.

Even if you’ve driven or walked a route dozens of times, check out what’s at the corner when you make a turn. What color is the door on the building? What’s the sticker on the light post? If you look more closely, you’ll probably notice new things.

Then when you’re traveling, you’ll pick up on visual clues that can help you find that amazing coffee shop or your way back to the hotel.

When my husband and I were in Barcelona we found this cute shop with amazing Jamon Iberico and Catalan tomato bread (Pa Amb Tomaquet – sooo good). We didn’t pay close enough attention to where it was, though, and ended up spending at least a half hour the next day wandering the alleys off of Las Ramblas trying to find it. When we did, we took a photo of the nearest intersection!

7. Let someone know where you’re going, and when you expect to be back.

This is especially important if you’re going out on your own. I wake up earlier than my husband, and I love to go out and wander in neighborhoods around where we’re staying. If I didn’t leave a note he would wake up and freak out! Plus it’s just always a good idea at home and elsewhere.

8. Check the forecast for the day before heading out the door.

This may seem obvious, but it’s easy to get complacent at home because you can adjust to unexpected weather more easily. When you’re in a new place, you may not know where to stop in to get a poncho or umbrella.

When my husband and I were in Quito, every day the forecast called for rain, so we always took a jacket and umbrella but rarely used them. When it started pouring on our last day there, we were glad we had the umbrella in my bag!

9. Stash a mini first aid kit in key places.

I’ve picked up several little first aid kits at health fairs, doctor’s offices and other places where they give them out for free. I keep one in the bag I carry around town and in my car. When I travel, I tuck one in my suitcase and my travel purse.

10. Have a set place for your key items.

My dad tried to teach me this when I was a kid and I misplaced a library book, my glasses, keys, and countless other items. I’ve gotten better at returning items to the same place as an adult, which is especially helpful as I age!

Phone, keys, glasses and other little things are easy to misplace in unfamiliar places, so decide one location to put the item (on the bedside table, in a certain pocket of your suitcase) and be vigilant about returning it there.

What habits do you have that are helpful when you travel? Share them with me at – thanks!

FYI: Blog posts by Becki Rupp and Trailblazer Wellness LLC are for informational purposes only and may not be the best fit for you and your personal situation. Information included in these posts shall not be construed as medical advice. The information and education provided here is not intended or implied to supplement or replace professional medical treatment, advice, and/or diagnosis. Always check with your own physician or medical professional before trying or implementing any information read in our blog posts.

Want to get regular updates from me? Join my email list by filling out the the form below:

How to Make Your Healthy Happen in 2020

How to Make Your Healthy Happen in 2020

4 steps to personalize your path and reach your goals

Hard to believe it’s nearly New Year’s Eve – and time for New Year’s Resolutions. I know a lot of people forego making them these days, myself included. We’ve all heard various stats about how many of us actually succeed at keeping them. We’d have better odds with a lottery ticket.

And yet the gym will be packed in the first weeks of January. Shopping carts will be filled with veggies and other “good for you” foods. New activity tracking devices (courtesy of Santa or a loved one) will be on wrists, reminding us to move more, breathe slowly and sit up straight.

We want to be healthier, we want to feel better. As the days and weeks go on, though, most of us gradually slip, or suddenly fall, back to our usual behavior patterns.

It’s human nature. It’s hard to make and maintain healthy habits. In fact, even when we make a specific effort, it can take nearly 3 months for a habit to stick!

So even if you don’t have an official New Year’s Resolution, what can you do to improve your chances of making your healthy happen in the coming year?

In spite of the 163 million results you’ll get if you Google “improve healthy habits,” chances are you won’t find the ideal answer for you. That’s because the ideal answer is different for each individual.

That said, you can craft your own answer. And in fact, when you do, research shows you’re more likely to be successful.

So how do you create your own path to reach your health goals? When I work with clients, we use a process that’s been honed by the Wellcoaches health coach certification team over the past 20 years. It incorporates researched, tested and peer-reviewed behavior change techniques and coaching strategies.

In a nutshell, here are the key components for a personalized path to healthy habits that last.

Step one: Clarify the whys behind the what

Identifying why you want to be healthier can involve a bit more digging than you might think. Most of us start with health goals that tie to how we look or feel on the surface: I want to fit into my favorite clothes. I want to have more energy. I want to stop the nagging pain in my knees.

Bring out your inner 3-year-old and start asking why. Why do you want to have more energy? So I can do more activities with my family. And why do you want to do more activities with your family? So I can feel more emotionally connected with them.

Just like a 3-year-old, keep asking why and you may surprise yourself.

Knowing what your whys are will help you when all the other things in life are inevitably competing for your time and energy. I’ll circle back to more on motivation later.

Step two: Tap into your strengths and skills

Back in the late ‘90s, I saw Marcus Buckingham speak at a conference about the concept of using your strengths in your job to be successful. It made so much sense to me that improving what you’re already good at is a far better use of time and effort than fixing what’s “wrong.” 

Soon after, the book “Now, Discover Your Strengths” that he co-wrote with Donald O. Clifton was published, which featured the StrengthsFinder assessment (now CliftonStrengths Assessment). I immediately got a copy and took the assessment.

Since then the strengths-based approach has gotten broader recognition in workplaces. It’s also a foundational component in health coaching, because when you leverage your strengths and skills to improve your health, you’ll enjoy your new habits more and are more likely to stick with them.

As part of my first meetings with clients, we explore their strengths and skills. Some are more modest about identifying their strengths than others. Sometimes they don’t realize that something they do “automatically” is a skill – when I point them out, the reaction often is “doesn’t everyone do that?” Nope – you’re special!

If you’d like to explore your strengths, check out the CliftonStrengths Assessment (pricing starts at $19.95 to get your “top 5”) for talent-based attributes such as analytical and developer.

You can also complete the free VIA Character Strengths assessment to find out how prevalent each of 24 traits, such as curiosity and humility, is in you (detailed profile reports cost extra).

Step three: Make it manageable

My clients set goals for their health and wellness for what they want to do, be and feel in a year or two. Initially some of the goals seem like a stretch – if they weren’t, they probably wouldn’t be working with a coach!

We then shift our focus to the next three months, and what they need to be able to do at that point so they can eventually reach the longer-term goals. It’s interesting to talk about three months conceptually, and then point to what that date is on the calendar!

Then we talk about the coming week, and what small steps it will take to get to the three-month goal. I call these steps “experiments” because after a client does it, or even if they don’t, we evaluate what worked and what didn’t and why.

Here’s how one of my clients described it:

My favorite learning was the concept of doing little experiments.  I am finding the idea of just trying something out for limited time is helping me see what kinds of things work well for me and which don’t. 

This process of breaking down big goals into easier experiments, then adjusting along the way, makes it manageable. If you try something as an experiment and it doesn’t work out, you can just try something different the next week and see if it works better.

Step four: Identify your motivation match

Ongoing motivation may tie back to the step one “whys” or it may look somewhat different. The “whys” usually get at the intrinsic, internal motivation that is critical for ultimately reaching a goal. Yet most of us still benefit from at least a little external push too.

Although details vary, a few common themes come up for what keeps my clients consistently motivated as they pursue their goals. All of them have upsides and downsides, so having more than one motivator can provide a “backup” support if one doesn’t pan out.

Consider which of these resonate most, and how you might combine them:

  • Upcoming event – whether it’s a big “life event” like a reunion or wedding, an annual event like a vacation or family visit, or a fitness-focused event like 5K run or a multi-day bike ride, the deadline is coming!
  • Competitive streak – this can be a person who is competitive with herself and wants to surpass a “personal best” and/or a person who is competitive with others and wants to win the game.
  • Group accountability – the “group” be just one other person who is a partner in progress, or a larger group working toward a common goal.
  • Social accountability – this is similar to group accountability, though a bit broader. The person who is motivated by social accountability will share her goal and plans with family, friends and/or others.
  • Rewards/incentives – some people like to set rewards for themselves, such as buying a new gadget or going to the spa. Some individuals are more motivated by an incentive from an external source, such as an employer’s wellness program.

Your Healthy, Your Path

With all of the lists, tips and hacks, you’d think we’d all be the picture of perfect health. Clearly that’s not the case.

Because really what you need is a personalized plan that aligns with why you want to be healthy, taps into your strengths and skills, is manageable, and includes motivation

So now you know why the Google search won’t turn up the best results for you. It’s the inner search that will keep you on your path to reach your goals.

Want to get regular updates from me? Join my email list by filling out the the form below:

FYI: Blog posts by Becki Rupp and Trailblazer Wellness LLC are for informational purposes only and may not be the best fit for you and your personal situation. Information included in these posts shall not be construed as medical advice. The information and education provided here is not intended or implied to supplement or replace professional medical treatment, advice, and/or diagnosis. Always check with your own physician or medical professional before trying or implementing any information read in our blog posts.

Gift Tips for Active Travelers

Gift Tips for Active Travelers

Tis the season for wish lists, pre-holiday deals, post-holiday clearance sales and thinking ahead to the coming year. If you or a loved one is looking forward to an awesome trip next year, it’s a great time to gear up!

My wish list always includes at least a few items related to outdoor activity and/or traveling, so a gift card to REI (where I worked for two holiday seasons) or my local outdoor store (currently Salida Mountain Sports) always works.

Then again, unwrapping a package creates anticipation that a gift card just can’t replace. So here are a few ideas for items that will make the road they’re about to travel even better for active travelers.

Make mine Merino please

A couple of years ago I asked for socks for Christmas – specifically, Smartwool Merino wool socks. I was wearing through the socks I had for hiking, biking and other outdoor activities, and it was time for a fresh set. And Merino wool is a great material for socks – it’s soft and warm, yet breathable and quick drying. 

Merino wool socks are a bit spendy though – I grew up in a lower-middle-class household with thrifty parents, so the idea of spending $20 or more on a pair of socks still makes me balk. If other people want to spend that much on socks for me, though, I’m okay with that!

Merino wool is also great for tops – from t-shirt style, to lightweight base layer, to heavier sweaters. The fibers wick away sweat, and they don’t get stinky. Plus, Merino wool keeps you cool when it’s warm, and warm when it’s cool.

Merino wool blend shirt quick dry synthetic pants
My favorite hiking outfit – Merino wool blend shirt (Voormi), synthetic quick dry pants, and low-cut hiking shoes.

If you or your favorite traveler don’t have Merino wool socks or tops, go get some now!

Best travel accessory – a scarf with a secret

A couple of years ago a good friend of mine, who is also an avid traveler, got me a loop scarf with a “secret pocket” in it from Waypoint Goods. The pocket is big enough for my passport, phone, sunglasses, money and credit card – brilliant! No more worrying about pickpockets and purse snatchers!

I wore the scarf throughout our trip to Italy. It was great for the days of walking through Florence and Rome in the fall, and especially as it got chilly in the evenings.

When we were planning our trip to Ecuador, I wanted a bit lighter weight version since it would be warmer there. I went back to Waypoint Goods and ordered their colorful Havana style scarf, made of bamboo and cotton.

On our way to the jungle region of Ecuador.

Waypoint’s site says the travel scarf is the best travel accessory ever – yep, agree.

Trekking poles – cheaper than knee surgery

I’ve had trekking poles for more than 20 years now – in fact, it’s probably time to replace my trusty Leki’s with a newer model (hint for husband). They were a Christmas gift from my parents after I did a 50K one-day hike called the Dogwood Half-Hundred in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains, and just about destroyed my knees in the process.

I use my trekking poles on virtually every hike. As the sheep and pigs say in Animal Farm, four legs good! I look up and enjoy the scenery more because I’m more stable. Crossing streams and log “bridges” is easier with additional points of contact. I get extra leverage going uphill, and shock absorption for going downhill (MUCH easier on my knees). Plus I get an upper body workout!

becki about me image
Trekking poles are mandatory for me when I hike in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains.

Most trekking poles can be adjusted to different lengths at one or two “locking” points on the pole. Adjusting the poles mid-hike can be helpful if you have a long uphill and/or downhill stretch, and for stream crossings.

If you or someone you love have any issues with knees and/or elbows (and let’s be honest, those only increase with age!), get poles with shock absorption features, such as internal springs within the pole and carbon-composite shafts. Also look for a grip material and contour that’s comfortable for you.

Old fashioned inspiration

Even in the Internet and Instagram age, I still love books. Especially books about amazing destinations that I can flip through, drool over, flag pages and make notes in for future reference.

Travel-related books have become an annual Christmas gift from my husband. As the year comes to a close, I usually start dreaming and scheming about the coming year’s trips. So a book or two about locations on the list are always a hit.

Then there are the inspirational travel books – the ones that make me want to take the next year or three to just go EVERYWHERE. I place full blame on National Geographic – their Journeys of a Lifetime was under the tree a few years ago. The second edition just came out, so guess what’s on my list now!

Last year we got Ultimate Journeys for Two, written by a couple who spent a year-long honeymoon (dubbed their HoneyTrek) traveling the world – sooo envious. We ended up following their advice for Ecuador by exploring the Volcano Highway and staying at Samari Lodge and Spa in Banos.

The lovely grounds of Samari Hotel and Spa in Banos, Ecuador

The journey is the gift, yet …

I consider being able to travel a gift in and of itself. That said, certain material gifts have definitely made travelling more comfortable and enjoyable over the years. I hope this sparks some ideas for you to ask for, get for yourself, or give to others that make the next trip even better!

FYI: Blog posts by Becki Rupp and Trailblazer Wellness LLC are for informational purposes only and may not be the best fit for you and your personal situation. Information included in these posts shall not be construed as medical advice. The information and education provided here is not intended or implied to supplement or replace professional medical treatment, advice, and/or diagnosis. Always check with your own physician or medical professional before trying or implementing any information read in our blog posts.

Want to get regular updates from me? Join my email list by filling out the the form below:

What I Learned from Galapagos Guides

What I Learned from Galapagos Guides

Three lessons for making the most of your visit

For many people, visiting the Galapagos is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. As I was getting ready for my trip to the famous islands in the Pacific, almost everyone I talked to said going there is on their “bucket list.” So how can you make the most of this iconic trip?

I figured, who would know better than the Guides who have been showing people around the islands for years?

Guides are ubiquitous in the Galapagos. Not only are you required to have a guide to visit spaces and sites that are within the Galapagos National Park – which covers 97% of the land and water in the archipelago. Guides also provide invaluable insights on the unusual flora and fauna that have made the islands famous. They complete a multi-month training program and play a key role in the appreciation and conservation of the islands.

During our 6-day trip to the Galapagos, booked through Detour Destinations and managed by Neotropic Expeditions, my husband and I were fortunate to have a private guide on each of the 3 islands we visited. Although guides don’t have to be from the Galapagos, each of ours had been born and raised on the island where they now live.

Besides sharing details about the mating rituals of giant tortoises and how marine iguanas swim, they offered tips for enjoying their home islands.

Be Physically Prepared

For more than a decade, our guide on Isabela, Sebastian Estrada, has been taking groups around the areas where his swashbuckling pirate ancestors landed centuries ago. He often leads groups from well-known companies that offer active trips around the world.

Over the years Sebastian has come to expect that there will be at least one or two people in a group who are less prepared than the rest. Although he adjusts what the group does to accommodate all levels, sometimes the other guests get frustrated because they expected a different experience.

It’s better to tell the guide up front if you have any concerns or limitations on activities, so the guide can plan for it before setting out, Sebastian says. Before we hiked along the Sierra Negra volcano crater, my husband mentioned that he doesn’t like getting near the edges of rocks or cliffs with drop-offs. Sebastian pointed him to spots along the hike where he’d get a great view without being too close to the edge.

Sebastian also told us to watch out for uneven surfaces – in nature, around town and even in hotels. Stairs and curbs don’t have “standard” heights there, and iguanas and sea lions lounge across sidewalks and streets at will. He’s had guests trip and fall, then not be able to do the activities they’d planned.

Pack a variety of clothing

Bring clothes for a variety of weather conditions, which can vary more than you might expect, and change quickly. Of course, all the photos you see online show sunny days and people snorkeling in bathing suits. We were glad we had rain jackets handy and used them several times.

For more tips on clothing and other gear, check out my post on Packing for Your First Multi-sport Adventure Trip.

My husband and I took the advice of Maria Fernanda Gordillo, our guide on San Cristobal, and rented full-length wetsuits for snorkeling at Kicker Rock. We were comfortable snorkeling for the full time during our two 45-minute excursions alongside sea turtles and countless fish. Others on our boat who had “shortie” wetsuits either cut their snorkeling time short, or shivered as we swam around the massive rock formation looking for sharks (saw one black-tipped, no hammerheads though).

Kicker Rock Galapagos snorkeling
We were glad to have rented full wetsuits for snorkeling at Kicker Rock (Clucky stayed on the boat).

One thing I didn’t think to bring was a Buff. Sebastian and many of the locals we saw wore neck and head protective sleeves, and pulled them up to cover most of their faces. The sun is incredibly strong on these islands that lie along the equator. Many shops in Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz had cute versions of Buffs with marine and bird patterns, but by the time we got there it was our last day in the Galapagos.

Be flexible

Tourism in the Galapagos is more steeped in nature than many other destinations, Maria pointed out to us. Birds, iguanas, sea lions and other wildlife come and go as they please without barriers, enclosures or specific viewing areas (with a few exceptions – like the Tortoise Center on Isabela island and the Charles Darwin Research Center on Santa Cruz island).

Marine iguanas sprawl on the docks in Puerto Ayora – and lots of other places in the Galapagos!

One night as we sat at dinner we noticed a sea lion sprawled across the boardwalk that lead to the restaurant. Galapagos rules include that you must stay 6 feet from the wildlife. So when people approached the restaurant via the boardwalk, they had to turn around and take the long way!

Although you almost can’t avoid seeing the most iconic animals of the Galapagos – sea lions, marine iguanas, blue-footed boobies, giant tortoises – others can be more elusive. When we kayaked to an area where dozens of endemic Galapagos penguins usually hang out, we only saw one. But at least we saw one!

Even seemingly “common” items can be hard to find. My husband ran out of shaving cream on day 3, so we stopped in a few places to find a can. No luck at the supermercado or a few mini-tiendas that seemed to specialize in personal grooming supplies. When we mentioned it to Sebastian, he took us to the place he knew usually stocked “unusual” items. Sure enough, we found it there – for $7 a can.

Sebastian pointed out that the supply ship that brings everything not grown on the islands only comes to Isabela twice a month. A far cry from Amazon 2-day delivery. Plan accordingly.

Slow down

As tempting as it may seem to visit as many islands and sites as you can in as few days as possible – the per-day cost of a Galapagos trip can be pretty steep – spend as much time as you can. In retrospect, I wish we had taken a day or two more than our 6-day/5-night excursion.

Be sure to build in a day or two (or at least a half day) to just relax while in the Galapagos, says Karla Zarabia, our guide on Santa Cruz. She has lead trips that are 5 days and cover 4 islands, which can be too much for some travelers. Some people end up skipping a day or two of activities because they’re too tired. When you only have 5 days, missing 1 is 20% of the time!

Although many people visit the Galapagos via boat, which allows them to move between islands overnight and reach more destinations, we chose a land-based trip, which included at least one night on each island.

Staying on the island allowed us to take Sebasian out to dinner at a local restaurant where his friend’s wife is the chef (check out El Cafetal when you’re in Puerto Villamil). We shared ceviche with Ecuadorans Carmita and Marcelo at the Los Kioskos street food market in Puerto Ayora. And then there was my “guest bartending” stint at the place on Isabela whose bartender had just quit, and the manager didn’t know how to make a lemon drop …

Santa Cruz Galapagos fresh fish dinner
My new amiga Carmita holds her future dinner at Los Kioskos in Puerto Ayora.

The pace of your activities can make a difference in what you see too. Sea kayaking and stand-up paddle boards (SUPs) are a great way to explore the marine environment up-close and at eye level, Maria noted. As we quietly paddled up to a rocky outcropping in Darwin Bay of San Cristobal, we could clearly see the blue feet of the classic Galapagos blue-footed boobies perched up above us. No binoculars necessary.

So take your time, be flexible and be prepared. And appreciate your guides for all of the wisdom they are so happy and willing to share.

FYI: Blog posts by Becki Rupp and Trailblazer Wellness LLC are for informational purposes only and may not be the best fit for you and your personal situation. Information included in these posts shall not be construed as medical advice. The information and education provided here is not intended or implied to supplement or replace professional medical treatment, advice, and/or diagnosis. Always check with your own physician or medical professional before trying or implementing any information read in our blog posts.

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