Travel Diary 2016: Chicago to Acadia National Park.

*I wrote this blog back in January and never uploaded it*

As it snows outside my window, I am immediately filled with travel memories.. to times of warmer weather and adventuring; to one time in particular that happened about six months ago.

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Suburbs of Chicago are freezing in January.

This time last year, I was sitting with my boyfriend Tom planning where in the world we should go for a summer trip. We danced around with the idea of visiting Seattle. We¬†got so far as to planning an entire trip on roadtrippers.com¬†called “West Coast Roadtrip” (original, I know): it was the real deal. But, that trip came to a close when we realized just how far Washington was via driving (28 hours, 2,060 miles to be exact).

So, we did what any people who had absolutely no idea where to go would do.. we pulled up Google maps. We really had this attraction to the New England region, especially the seaside. After a bunch of searching, searching again and searching one more time, we decided on visiting Acadia National Park in Bar Harbor, Maine.

Once we had the destination, it was all about where to go. We had to worry about what car to take (we ended up taking my very small, very cute Hyundai Accent), how much gas would cost, what cities we would stop at for the night and make sure we got to Acadia in just a few days. It took a while, but we had everything completely planned and by the time June hit, we were ready to go.

From the suburbs of Chicago, we embarked to our first destination: the Canadian side of Niagara Falls. There are a few things I learned while driving to Niagara: 1. The highway in Canada was essentially one very long, boring road. 2. Nobody is as excited as you are to go to Tim Horton’s. 3. Crossing into Canada from the U.S. will take a little while.

We did eventually get to Niagara after an all-day drive. It was absolutely beautiful and I now understand the hype. We stayed for the night we got there, plus the whole next day and left the following morning. We did basically every touristy thing you can do and had a great time.

We did something called Cave of the Winds where you get to take an elevator down to the base of the falls and walk around. There is a part of it where you are standing right next to the waterfall and the water slams you. It was great.

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After standing under Niagara on Cave of the Winds

Of course, we also did the Maid of the Mist. I would definitely recommend doing Cave of the Winds OVER Maid of the Mist, since the majority of the time on the “Maid” was spent trying not to freeze to death and attempting to see through the very thick mist (it doesn’t have it’s name for NOTHIN’). Both were amazing though.

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On the Maid of the Mist

After our day and a quarter of exploring Niagara (and 10 m we were onto our next destination. This one was really just a “we need to sleep somewhere” stop: Keene, New Hampshire. It turned out to be a pleasant stay. On the way to Keene, we made a lunch stop in Syracuse, NY, which I was a big fan of! We ate at a place called Funk N’ Waffles (it was on Diners, Drive-in’s and Dives) where they had a turkey dinner waffle. It sounds gross, but I promise it was amazing.

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Jive TURKEY (Not Tuerkey) from Funk N’ Waffles

Later that day, driving into New Hampshire was when our roadtrip views started to get beautiful. Upstate New York was started the hills, and from there we were driving through essentially small mountain ranges in Vermont. Vermont is the prettiest, most natural looking place I have ever been in the U.S. If you ever have to drive through it for any reason.. do it.  I am still wishing that I could drive through that area again.

In Vermont, we came across a small shop on the side of the road that sold honey and maple syrup, so naturally we got both.. and I have never had anything as good as either of those in my whole life. 10/10 recommend driving to Vermont just for some maple syrup.

We did eventually get to Keene, NH, where we stayed the night. My favorite moment from Keene was when we went to get some Panera for dinner and they had a lobster roll on the menu. As midwesterners, we were shocked, and told the Panera employee who couldn’t believe we didn’t have it on the menu in Chicago. Basically, this was when our trip started to feel very New Englandy.

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Side of the road in Vermont

The next morning we packed back into the car and headed towards our real destination, our cozy AirBNB in Lamoine, ME (right outside of Bar Harbor). We drove a lot on this trip, so much that it started to just seem natural to sit in a car for 9 hours a day. When we entered Maine, I really wanted to see the ocean, we pulled off at a random, small beach community and walked down to touch the water. It was a crappy, rainy, cloudy day.. but it was incredible to me.

We were planning to stop in Portland, ME for lunch and spending a few ¬†hours looking around, but we got hungry before that and ended up in the town of Kennebunkport. It was pouring rain, we were a little bit hangry and sick of driving, but we had lunch at a small little restaurant. Tom got his first lobster roll there, which he thought was the best one ever, but he hadn’t tried any others yet in Maine.

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Our lovely Airbnb.

Later that afternoon, we finally got to our AirBNB. It was a long, long road to get there, but we did and it felt incredible. That night we drove into the town of Bar Harbor and had dinner at an Irish pub at sunset overlooking the bay. It was there that we found Bar Harbor Tom:

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The next week was filled with a ton of adventure, from exploring downtown Bar Harbor, to taking a trolly all the way to the top of Cadillac Mountain, we truly got the (probably touristy) Maine experience. I’ll let this picture slide show take you through what we experienced:

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Here is a video from Thunder Hole in Acadia National Park. This place was so amazing:

This was our first big adventure together. It was honestly fantastic and much better than we even hoped. If you ever get the chance to get out to Bar Harbor, I highly suggest it.

Our trip took place from the middle to end of June. The weather was in the 60’s-70’s, so it’s nice, but don’t expect this to be a beach vacation.

Let me know where your favorite place to travel is in the comments.


 

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Planning A Trip on a College Budget: Tips + Tricks!

Expanding your horizons past your hometown or college campus may seem impossible right now, but, with the right amount of planning ahead, it could be more doable than you think.

First.. here’s a story:

I have a ridiculous ‘need’ to travel (more of a want, but in my heart it’s a need). My entire life i’ve gotten such a thrill out of trips, and even planning trips. I think it’s so important to immerse yourself in other cultures and see as much as you can in your life.

So far, I think I’m doing an okay job. I know I’ve seen more then some people have seen in their entire lives (which makes me incredibly sad).

I have a few trips stored away until I’m done with college: Europe, Asia and various islands. I don’t even want to think about planning those trips until I have the money to see what I want to see and do what I want to do FULLY. I’m not going to fly 13 hours to half-ass it.

But, while I was thinking up all these foreign trips, I realized that there was so much I still haven’t seen in my own country.. THE USA. Despite all the racist, homophobic and politically effed-up stuff happening in America in the moment, it’s a gorgeous country.. and I’ve only seen a very small chunk of it.

My boyfriend and I have decided to travel at the end of May, when school is out, and to make it achievable in terms of budget and planning.

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We are planning a road trip from Chicago –> Toronto –> Niagra Falls –> Upstate New York ¬†–> Bar Harbor, Maine –> Portland, Maine –> Boston –> New York City –> Washington D.C.

That’s 8 locations in around 12-14 days. We at first thought this was insane and impossible to do with the amount of money we have..

Here’s how we planned and made it doable..


Tips + Tricks for Planning a Trip on a College Budget:

*Disclaimer: No trip is ever going to be THAT cheap. You have to spend a little money to have a nice time, this is just how to keep your costs down.

  • Be Realistic:¬†Before even starting to plan, know how much money you can put toward the trip (all people involved). Save that money! If you have to, open a savings account at your bank. If you trust yourself, throw the money in jar and put it in your closet. Another thing you need to be realistic about, if you can’t afford a trip to the outback of Australia (unless you’re in Australia), don’t even make it an option. Don’t choose places that are unachievable; you’ll get there one day!
  • Planes, Trains or Automobiles:¬†Transportation is one of the biggest parts about planning a trip.. I mean you do have to GET THERE after all..

¬†If you are planning to go to one central location, I would 100% recommend taking a plane; it’s mostly painless and gets you where you wanna go quickly. For airfare, I suggest checking TONS of sites and playing around with dates as much as you can to find the BEST deal (www.cheapoair.com has some good deals).

If you want to go to several locations, as long as they’re in your country, a road trip may be the best option. There are some real downsides to this option, unfortunately. If you are under the age of 25, renting a car is possible.. but ridiculously expensive. If you take that price plus the price of all the gas you’re going to use, it’s not a smart option. If you have a car or someone has a car you can use, use it. Be sure to plan for the gas you will use the whole trip. There is an awesome site for people planning a road trip..¬†roadtrippers.com¬†allows you to completely map out your trip (and includes attractions and places to see along the way) and calculates your gas expenses depending on where you want to stop. I’ve been using it and it’s awesome.

–¬†The train is also a perfectly good option. Amtrak hits a ton of major cities all over the ¬†country. This is great if you have a fear of flying, and even if you don’t you can sometimes find better deals on train tickets versus plane tickets. Of course, there are some bad things about this option. It will take you WAAAAY longer to get where you’re going. Usually, the prices aren’t that much better than flying.. especially if you find a great flight.

  • Lodging:¬†Hotels can be crazy expensive; I’m talking upwards of $200 a night in major cities. If you are on a college budget, this is a big no-no! But, that doesn’t mean you have no options of places to stay:

– AirBNB: I cannot hype up AirBNB enough. It’s an online site, and app, that allows you to book either a whole home or private room in people’s private residences (sounds creepy, but it’s a big thing now). You can find some insanely great prices. I, for example, found places for around $30 a night for my trip. Some of the places do require a minimum night stay (usually 2 nights, if they do).. which could be a problem for some people. Most of these places are really, really nice too! Check out their website: www.airbnb.com

– Hostels: I’m not totally sure about the quality or safety of these places, cause some of them can be kind of grimey, but, if you need a cheap place to stay these will definitely do.

– Camping: Nothing wrong with roughing it. If your location makes camping doable, go for it! There are tons of campsites that only charge like $20 a night (so cheap).

  • Other Costs:¬†

– Food isn’t free: There are cheap ways to do it. Eat in your hotel, bring snacks, find a place with free breakfast to stay at, but at the end of the day.. you’re going to have to eat. Food is a big part of some cities, so make sure to try it all out. Think out how much you want to allow yourself each day for food (realistically) and then add up the meals per day and how many days you’re there.

– Things to do: If you are a great tourist, like me, you probably want to do some interesting things the town/city has to offer. Allow yourself some extra cash for some stuff to do. You don’t have to go crazy, but some fun is needed.


Planning a trip can be tedious and hard, but if you give yourself enough time, anything is possible.

Start now!

-Emily