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Is Death Valley National Park Worth Visiting?

Don’t let the name scare you off! Death Valley is one of the largest national parks in North America, and has one of the most adventurous histories in the West. From iconic Wild West stories and movie backdrops to its picturesque desert landscape, Death Valley is definitely worth the visit.

Facts and History

Death Valley National Park is so large that it covers both California and Nevada. Geologically, the park is literally a basin that plunges below sea level making for stark contrasts in the lay of the land. Death Valley is a park of extremes, so you’ll need to plan ahead for some potential safety issues.

Like most national parks, Death Valley’s history begins with North America’s first inhabitants. Native Americans of the Shoshone tribe stayed in the land now known as Death Valley for a few centuries before European settlers arrived. Ironically, Death Valley provided an abundant amount of resources for the Shoshone to survive. Even today, you can see snow on the mountaintops, providing a water source, random torrential downpours bringing up wildflowers, and oases for wildlife and fish.

During the 1800s, travellers of several different ethnicities settled in Death Valley for their own unique reasons. Some of them were in search of ore during the Gold Rush, and some were building roads and train railroads. In 1942, Japanese internment residents were kept in Death Valley for their safety as the tension of World War II heightened. For three months, they lived in old barracks that were used for the Civilian Conservation Corps and helped the National Parks Service Staff maintain the park.

Today, you can still visit some of the old mines that were used during the Gold Rush and a handful of legitimate ghost towns.

Death Valley reaches an enormous 5,300 square miles, but it’s possible for visitors to have a great visit in just one day. In fact, over a million people travel to Death Valley every year for anywhere from one-day visits or week-long stays.

What Is Death Valley Known For?

Death Valley was used for the filming of several blockbuster Hollywood films like Star Wars: Episode IV: A New Hope (1980), and Star Wars: Episode VI: Return of the Jedi (1983), and The Twilight Zone television series. If you’re a movie buff, you should definitely check out Lone Pine, Death Valley’s very own movie museum.

The famous and haunting story of the lost ‘49ers also happened in various places throughout Death Valley, and legend says that the national park got its name from this story. In 1849, a group of travelers seeking a new settlement in California disputed over the best route to take west from present-day Salt Lake City, Utah. After several doubts and discouragement, the group split up three times all in an effort to find a shortcut, but not a single member of the party had a reliable map. It is said that one of the last people to find their way out of the vast desert leading into California shouted “Goodbye, Death Valley” as they left, giving the land its name.

What Can You Do At Death Valley?

The desert and mountains provide plenty of opportunities for hiking, backcountry camping, and mountain biking. Due to its desolate nature, Death Valley’s constructed trails with markings and signs are hardly necessary, and most of your hiking is done in the wide open spaces and naturally cut out mountain ridges. This also applies for climbers and mountain bikers.

There are five easy hikes (½ mile – 2 miles), eleven moderate hikes (1 ½ miles – 8 miles), and five difficult hikes (7 miles – 14 miles). If you’re planning on hiking, you need to prioritize your water supply. The best time to do any sort of outdoor activities other than sightseeing is between November and March. Due to its low elevation, Death Valley’s heat can be very dangerous in the summer.

For camping, Death Valley has over 700 miles of backcountry dirt roads and visitors are highly encouraged to set up camp along these paths. You’ll need to follow some simple guidelines like keeping your party under 12 people and 4 vehicles, and parking at least one mile away from paved roads.

Tips For Visiting Death Valley

Outdoor activities aren’t your only options! If you want to visit Death Valley in the summer, but want to stay safe by avoiding the heat, you can still have a memorable experience. Starting with the Visitor Center, you can learn about the history of Death Valley and take a tour of the underground tunnels led by one of the Park Rangers.

For strenuous outdoor activities, try to plan your trip for November through March. If you do any sort of hiking, climbing or biking outside in the summer, wear sun protective clothing, sunscreen, and bring more water than you think you’ll need.

Where Should I Stay When Visiting Death Valley?

Camping in Death Valley is fun because of the night sky. Depending on where you set up camp in the park, you’ll be far away from any source of light pollution, making for a crystal clear night. Keep in mind that the season in which you visit Death Valley will dictate your available camping options. In the summer months, night temperatures can still reach over 100 degrees Fahrenheit, so only a handful of campgrounds will be open.

There are nine campgrounds total in Death Valley, and they are open to RVs, trailer-campers, and tent-campers. For the most part, there isn’t a reservation system and finding a spot is first-come, first-serve. Fees range depending on season, so make sure you plan ahead. If you don’t want to pay a camping fee, camping in the backcountry is always an option.

If you don’t want to camp, there are four resorts located inside the park. Reservations are required for this lodging option, so make sure you call ahead to secure your room.

Is Death Valley Safe?

It seems like an oxymoron, but Death Valley is perfectly safe. As long as you take all necessary precautions to stay hydrated and protect yourself from the sun, you’ll have a great time!

Heat exhaustion is very common among Death Valley visitors. Pay attention to your water and electrolyte intake levels, and listen to your body if you begin to feel dizzy or nauseous. As dangerous as the heat is, more people have died in Death Valley due to car accidents than anything else. Drive on all roads carefully!

Other safety precautions you should take involve staying away from wild animals. You may find lethal creatures like black widow spiders, scorpions, rattlesnakes, and mice and rats. They usually mind their own business, so don’t bother them if you find their dens.

Also, avoid being in a canyon during a rainstorm because flash floods are common, and don’t enter any closed-off abandoned mine shafts.

Plan Your Visit

Death Valley does have an entrance fee; the price depends on how you arrive to the park and how long you’re staying. All passes are week-long.

• Vehicle: $30 for 7 days
• Motorcycle: $25 for 7 days
• Individual (visitor arriving on foot): $15 for 7 days
• Annual pass: $55

Keep in mind that these entrance fees do not include the camping fees. These prices have a wider range and depend on type of camper, and extra amenities.

Death Valley is dog friendly, just make sure you’re paying as much attention to your pet’s hydration and nutrition as you are to yourself. Keep an eye out for signs of heat exhaustion like fatigue and excessive sweating.

Why Is Death Valley Worth Visiting?

Death Valley is worth visiting because it caters to travelers with a wide background of interests. Whether you want to hike or climb on Death Valley’s mountain ridges or camp in the backcountry to see the night sky, your trip will be unforgettable if you plan right!

Overall, plan ahead for entrance and camping fees and bring plenty of water and sunscreen, and you’ll have a great time!

 

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travel

7 Ways to Stick to Your Budget on Vacation

You saved up, put in your PTO, and now you’re finally on vacation for some much needed R&R. But what you don’t need while you’re soaking up the sun and taking in the sights is to overspend and go into debt. If you worked hard to save for your vacation, there is no reason to go over your budget when you get there and make life more stressful when you get back—and you can still have an Insta-worthy vacation while traveling on a budget.

Plus, travel prices are expected to surge this summer, so you’re going to want to plan ahead and look for ways to save when you get to your destination. Here are some tips to help you stick to your budget for a vacation that’s relaxing in more ways than one.

1. Budget before you book.

Set a budget for your vacation before your book your trip—flights and accommodations will probably be the biggest expenses. “Go during the week (Monday thru Friday),” says Taylor Harrell-Goodwin, CEO of Lively Co. travel agency. “Fly out by Saturday morning for U.S travels.” Hotels usually have lower prices during the week because of low occupancy, and you might get a better rate and food and beverage deals if you book for more than two nights.

2. Carry a debit card or a prepaid Visa.

Use a debit card or a prepaid Visa card for expenses on your vacation. That way, you’ll be more aware of how much money you can spend. Carry a credit card with you for emergencies and use the debit or prepaid card for everything else.

Bringing your debit card along will also be helpful for withdrawing cash—Harrell-Goodwin recommends her clients set aside $200 in cash for tips and any small expenses. You might also get some discounts paying in cash instead of paying with a credit card. “Remember to pay your service workers in cash, so they don’t wait on their tip,” says Harrell-Goodwin.

3. Set a daily limit for spending.

Along with an overall budget, setting a daily limit will help you spend within your means. “Create a set of envelopes with each day of vacation written on the outside,” says Stacey Marmolejo, executive director at Florida Beach Break. Use only the cash or gift cards inside the envelope for that day, and if you have any left over, add it to the next day’s envelope. Breaking up your overall vacation budget and having a set amount you can spend per day is less overwhelming and will help you stick to it better.

4. Use a travel credit card.

While cash and prepaid cards have their perks, travel credit cards do too. Using a travel credit card can help you get rewards while you’re on vacation. “Travel credit cards have some of the best rewards in the credit card
industry,” says Mason Miranda, credit industry expert at Credit Card Insider. “Take advantage of them to save money and stay within your budget.”

Many travel credit cards come with perks like free travel insurance and discounted car rentals. Look for a card that works best for your vacation needs, whether that’s saving on airfare or getting points when you use it for entertainment or restaurants.

If you’re going to use a credit card, make sure you pay if off.  “Always pay off your full statement balance each month to avoid interest, which could negate any potential rewards you’ve earned,” says Miranda.

Most credit cards also have online banking apps you can use to track your spending or lock your card if you go past your limit, to help you stay in your budget. Miranda says he and his wife check their credit cards once a day on vacation to make sure they’re staying within budget.

5. Cook some of your meals.

Of course you want to enjoy the local food when you’re on vacation, but eating out a lot can add up quickly and take away from other experiences during your trip. Nashville-based travel agent Erica James recommends finding accommodations with a kitchenette if your stay is a week or longer so you can cook some quick meals in your room. See if the hotel you’re staying at offers complimentary breakfast, or bring leftovers from a restaurant back to your room and eat them the next day as well.

Buying food at the airport is also expensive; pack a meal or snacks so you can avoid spending a fortune before you even start your vacation.

6. B.Y.O.B.

If you’re staying somewhere that is not all-inclusive, bring your own booze. Sure, you can splurge on a fancy cocktail here and there, but “alcohol can become your biggest expense while on vacation,” according to James. Those mini bottles of liquor will easily fit in your carry-on and save you a lot of money, too.

7. Spend your money on experiences.

While it’s tempting to buy souvenirs for yourself and others, these can add up and throw you off your budget fast. Spend your money on experiences, and take lots of pictures and videos—these are free and will last a lot longer.

Marmolejo recommends doing one free activity and one paid activity per day so you do something fun and exciting each day while sticking to your budget. For example, if you’re going on a beach vacation, you can spend half the day laying on the beach and the other half taking a surf lesson or renting a jet ski.

Sticking to a budget will make sure you have a great time during your vacation and after you get back—nothing kills a vacation glow like finding out you spent way too much money. Knowing exactly how much you have to spend every day and planning which activities you want to do ahead of time will give you the stress-free, fun vacation you deserve.

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travel

13 Common Travel Insurance Questions and Misconceptions Answered

Travel insurance is one of the most important things you’ll buy for your trip — no matter how long you are going away for. It is a must-have and I never leave home without it.

Buying travel insurance is a must. But since it is a confusing topic (try reading New York insurance law for fun. I did. It’s not fun), today I want to answer the common questions about travel insurance. These questions pop up in my inbox all the time and are the greatest points of confusion on the subject.

1. What is Travel Insurance?

Travel insurance provides support, compensation, and medical care when things go wrong on the road. Depending on your policy, it could provide support and compensation if your luggage is lost, if you slip and break a bone hiking, or if you need to return home early due to a death in the family.

It’s a financial safety net for emergencies while you’re abroad

Contrary to popular belief, travel insurance is not a substitute for health insurance in your home country — nor is it a license to be foolish! It’s your emergency parachute should something terrible happen while you’re traveling.

2. Is Travel Insurance Just Health Insurance?

No, it’s so much more than that. While there is a medical component for sudden illnesses and accidental injuries, it can also cover all sorts of additional incidents, such as:

  • Trip cancelation
  • Lost/Damaged/Stolen possessions
  • Emergency evacuation
  • Expatriation should there be a natural disaster
  • Trip interruption

Travel insurance is for all-around emergencies, not just medical ones.

3. Is Travel Insurance Similar to Health Insurance? I Can Go See a Doctor When I Want?

Travel insurance is not a replacement for health insurance. It’s there for unexpected emergencies only, not regular checkups. And should you need to be sent home due to a health emergency, it will be your regular health coverage that kicks in once you’re back in your home country.

For that reason, you’ll need to make sure you have both travel insurance (for when you’re abroad) and regular health coverage (in case you get sent home with an injury)

Break a leg? Pop an eardrum? Get food poisoning or dengue? Travel insurance has you covered.

Want to go see a doctor for a physical or get a cavity filled? You’re on your own.

4. Can I Get Treated for an Illness I Already Have?

As a general rule, most travel insurance plans don’t cover pre-existing conditions. If you get sick on the road, travel insurance is there for you. But if you need medication for an ongoing chronic disease or a medical condition you knew of before you bought the policy, you could be out of luck.

Moreover, if you get sick under one policy and then you extend it or start a new policy, most insurers will consider your illness a pre-existing condition and won’t cover it under your new policy.

In short, pre-existing conditions are generally not covered unless you find a specific plan that provides coverage for them.

5. My Credit Card Offers Some Protection. Isn’t That Good Enough?

Travel credit cards, even the very best ones, offer only limited protection. Some cards offer coverage for lost or stolen items, medical expenses, and trip cancellation — but only if you booked your trip with that specific card.

In my experience (and I’ve had dozens of travel credit cards over the years) even if your card covers some things, that coverage limit is often very low. That means you’ll have to pay the difference out of pocket (and you’ll be surprised at just how expensive that can be!).

Bottom line: don’t rely on credit card coverage. While it’s nice to have its protection as a backup, I wouldn’t (and don’t) rely on credit cards for my primary coverage when abroad. It’s not a smart choice.

6. How Does Insurance Actually Work? Do They Mail Me a Card I Can Show the Doctor?

If you experience a major medical emergency that requires surgery, overnight hospitalization, or emergency repatriation, then you (or someone else) would contact your travel insurance company’s emergency assistance team. They can then help make arrangements and approve costs. Every insurance company has a 24-hour contact number you can call for emergencies. I always suggest travelers save this number in their phone before departure just to be safe.

For all other situations, you need to pay for the costs upfront, collect receipts, and then make a claim for reimbursement from your insurer. You’ll pay out of pocket and then submit documentation to the insurance company after the fact (so there’s no need to show a card to the doctor).

Be sure to keep all documentation, file any necessary police reports, and save all receipts. Companies don’t reimburse you based on your word. Keep documentation!

7. What About Obamacare? How Does That Affect Everything?

For Americans, the ACA, or “Obamacare,” covers you only in the United States, and since travel insurance is not a replacement for health insurance, it doesn’t get you out of its requirements.

But if you are away from the United States for 330 days or more, you don’t need to get US-based health insurance. You also get a three-month grace period each year before you get charged a penalty. Be sure to contact a tax accountant or the ACA hotline number for more information.

Just keep in mind that, if you need to be sent home due to an injury, travel insurance will not cover your bills upon arrival back to your country of residency.

8. I Read Reviews Online. All These Companies Suck. What’s Up With That?

I’ve talked with hundreds of travelers over the years about insurance and received thousands of emails from people who have had insurance issues. While there are some legitimate concerns, the overwhelming majority of people I interact with haven’t read the fine print of their policy.

People buy a plan, don’t read the exact wording, and then make (incorrect) assumptions about their coverage.

Naturally, they scream bloody murder when their assumptions don’t match up with reality and go on a digital tirade, leaving bad review after bad review.

And, to be honest, most people don’t write good reviews when they are helped. On the Internet, we love to scream our displeasure but rarely do we go out of our way to leave a positive review of something.

So take online reviews of insurance companies with a grain of salt. I’ve read them and most of the time, I think, “You didn’t read your policy!”

I’m by no means an insurance company defender, but if you’re going in with no documentation, no proof you owned what you lost, or you want to make a claim for something that is specifically excluded on the policy, you should expect to get denied.

Is the reimbursement process fun? No. It’s a lot of paperwork and back and forth emails with the insurer. But when you have all your ducks in a row, you get reimbursed.

9. I Got Drunk and Hurt Myself. Will I Be Covered?

Probably not! If you are doing something foolish (whether you’re drinking or not), insurance companies will want to know if putting yourself at unnecessary risk led to the injury. If, after investigating, they find you did, they can deny your claim. That’s not to say that they expect you to be sober your entire trip, but let’s just say you’re unlikely to get reimbursed if you’re drunk and decide that it would be a good idea to stand in the middle of the road and play chicken.

So, don’t be foolish!

10. Does Travel Insurance Cover Me in My Home Country?

Some travel insurance can cover you at home. For example, World Nomads travel insurance covers you either 100 miles from your permanent address (for U.S. residents), outside your home province (if you’re Canadian), or outside your home country (for everyone else).

It depends on your policy, and there are always conditions on when the coverage starts and ends and where you can travel to, so check this carefully first. Some companies let you be in your home country for a short period, others won’t cover you at all. So read the fine print!

11. I’m a Senior. What Should I Do?

Insurance companies don’t like covering seniors as they view them as high risk. Therefore, it’s a lot harder for older travelers to find comprehensive coverage. For seniors, try Insure My Trip. They usually have options for travelers in the 60s and 70s. Start your search there.

12. Will Travel Insurance Send Me Home If I Get Injured or Sick?

Under most circumstances, travel insurance will not repatriate you to your home country. In a nutshell, travel insurance is there to make sure you get the medical assistance you need should an emergency arise. Usually, that means sending you to the nearest acceptable facility — they don’t have to send you home.

So, if you break your leg hiking you’ll be taken to the nearest suitable facility and patched up. After that, the onus is on you to get home. Your policy will likely reimburse you for any part of your trip that you cancel due to your injury but it won’t pay for you to go home early (unless you have a life-threatening injury that requires advanced medical care).

If you feel this isn’t enough coverage and want additional medical transport and repatriation coverage, use a service like Medjet. They’re a membership program with affordable annual (and short-term) policies that include medical transport coverage that’s more comprehensive than what you’d find in your average travel insurance policy.

13. What About COVID-19 and Other Pandemics?

As many found out the hard way, travel insurance does not cover pandemics. While some companies have been making changes to their pandemic coverage (such as World Nomads, SafetyWing, and Medjet), many companies still don’t cover COVID/pandemics.

Be sure you understand exactly what COVID/pandemic coverage is offered before you book. Specifically, you’ll want to know whether you’re covered only for medical issues or if you have cancellation/trip interruption coverage as well.

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photography

5 Essential Tips for Better Candid Photos

Don’t Steal

When people think of candid photos, often the idea is that you have to steal your shots; that you have to somehow catch your subject off-guard in order for the photo to be truly candid. In essence you’re taking a photo without permission, whether your subjects like it or not.

This is not how a well-meaning and disciplined photographer behaves.

Stealing is the act of thieves. And we’re not thieves, are we? Instead, let your intentions be known.

Don’t hide your camera. Don’t shoot from a hidden position. When you allow your subjects the opportunity to acknowledge your presence and become comfortable around you, they’ll unconsciously let you into their world more openly which is the whole point of candid photos.

You want your subjects to show you who they are and what they are about. Those truly open and honest moments are what you’re really after. When you steal a shot, people will often feel violated and trying to steal another one will prove much more difficult the second time around.

Be Patient

When it comes to candid shots, waiting for the right moment is better than just shooting with reckless abandon hoping to get a decent candid photo. The aim is to let your subjects be comfortable enough around your camera that they forget (or stop minding) it’s even there. This won’t happen in an instant.

Instead, wait for your surroundings to settle into a rhythm before you even start pressing away at your shutter release. Let people talk and act casually. Let them go about their business.

In other words, just wait for things to happen naturally. It may take some time before things get into a rhythm but it will get there. That’s when you bring your viewfinder to your eye.

Observe

Slow down and watch your subjects. Candid photos of people are meant to convey a certain emotion or feeling or a story. You won’t be able to capture those truly candid moments when you don’t know or understand what those moments are really about.

Observe and examine your subjects the same way an anthropologist would. What is it specifically that you want to capture about them? What opportunities do you see for capturing a candid moment?

What movements are you looking for? What lighting conditions do you want to capture? What behaviors are unique and worthy of a photo?

These are all questions you answer through observation and understanding your subjects. Being observant also clues you into how you’re supposed to expose and compose your shot.

Blend In

While I did mention that you shouldn’t hide your intentions while taking photographs of people, I will also say that it helps when you make an effort to blend in with your surroundings. In other words, you have to stop acting like a photographer.

This means not having 3 cameras strapped to your shoulders.

This means not wearing a National Geographic vest full of your gear. This means walking around and watching and observing your subjects instead of directing and corralling them into your frame. Let your camera hang to your side and only bring it up to your eye when you see something worthy of a photo.

You’re not exactly hiding your intentions, you’re just not broadcasting to the world that you’re there to take candid photos of everyone.

Just Shoot

Candid photography aims to capture moments of people’s honesty and lack of pretense. There are no poses, no forced smiles, and no elaborate lighting set ups. The point is to capture unscripted and unexpected moments with your camera.

And the only way to really do that is to just shoot. Follow your instincts and let them guide you. Don’t over-think it.

If you see something, just shoot. If you don’t, that’s OK too.

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