Month: July 2011

Kilgore Falls, Maryland

What do you do when you have an entire day off and cabin fever from too many hot days in a row in a crowded city? You take a trip to swim in a waterfall, that’s what!

My friends Chris and Kelly scooped me up this afternoon to take me to Kilgore Falls in northern Harford County, Maryland. The day started off rainy, making me nervous about lightening bringing our field trip to a screeching halt, but luckily for us, that didn’t happen.

There were a few families around, but for the most part, we had the place to ourselves. We set up a makeshift camp, ate a picnic lunch we brought and spent the afternoon exploring. Of course today was the day my digital camera refused to work. (I’m hoping it was just low on batteries).

There were 3 main waterfalls over one large rock wall. The first was gave off a little too much pressure but the smaller one next to it was perfect. Lying on your back, letting the water pound down on you is quite an experience. You can also swim behind the falls and get an awesome view of them in front of you.

The water basin of the falls is about 4-5 feet deep throughout except for one patch that was about 6 feet. I definitely did not feel safe cliff jumping, as I’ve done at Devil’s Pool at the Wissahickon in Philadelphia. There was an awesome “natural staircase” to the left of the falls, that once you climb up, you can sit and wade in the basin of water before it tumbles over the rock. It was slippery, but also relaxing and serene. By that time, all of the families left and we truly had a piece of unadulterated natural beauty to ourselves. Not bad for a Monday, right?

Check out pictures and a little bit about Kilgore Falls here

Hostile toward Hosteling?

I am currently embarking on my first hostel booking experience. I am traveling to Vermont to see my sister the first week of September and from there driving up to Montreal, Quebec for a long weekend. Since both of us are nearly broke and most certainly on budgets, we are going to stay in a youth hostel in Montreal. While hosteling remains more popular in Europe and other countries, Americans are starting, with more and more frequency, to turn to youth hostels to make traveling world-wide budget-friendly. I am really excited at the prospect of walking into a completely foreign building with beds, sleeping amongst “strangers” (who are really fellow kin and travelers), and befriending them.

Here’s a list of what to consider when choosing a hostel to book.

1. Location– I think this may be the biggest factor. I was going to list budget first, but really, I don’t mind forking over a few more dollars a night if it means saving money on a commute into the part of the city I want to see. Everything I’ve looked into so far is right where travelers in for a long weekend would want to be: near all the restaurants, shops, boutiques, theaters and museums. If I’m going, I want to be right up in the action, at least for this trip, anyway. Lots of hostel websites, one of the best being, predictably,, will include how far away they are from central hubs of activity you might be interested in.

2. Price- You hardly feel like haggling over things like price when you’ve just made a long journey to a foreign city. Try to call the place you booked at to confirm any details, like price, before you book. Some of the lodging charts could be confusing and may also have a few hidden costs, like if you prefer to have a private room rather than bunking in a co-ed dorm (up-charge of up of at least $10/night). I’m looking for things around $20/night. Montreal is not exactly the cheapest city to hostel in. Just keep your eyes out for the deals!

3. Amenities- Do you prefer a private bathroom? Having grown up one of six kids, I’m fine with sharing a bathroom. I’ve done it my whole life. I’ll come equipped with flip-flops to ward off the funkies in the shower, but that’s about all. How ’bout the sleeping situation? Would you rather bunk with all girls, or would you rather sleep co-ed? How about a private room? Is free wi-fi something that’s important to you (it should be if you plan on doing any social media while on your trip). How about a free breakfast everyday? Community kitchen? There is a lot to consider. I may go the easiest, cheapest route of co-ed dorm, community kitchen, shared bathroom, hope for free wi-fi, and be okay with cooking meals.

4. Reviews- If you are a savvy internet user, which most of us are in this day in age, you read Yelp reviews on restaurants you might want to visit, or look at the critics’ reviews before going to the movie. Same should apply for hostels. While you can’t take everyone’s reviews verbatim- “Everything was terrible, from the decor to the food, to the service!”, there is a lot of fair and honest people who review on such websites (as far we know). You absolutely can’t rely on everything the reviews say, but sometimes you do get some good heads’ ups like the continental breakfast was very skimpy and there were no locks on the bathrooms or the front door. THOSE are not details hostels would advertise. Plus, reviews are a good forum to connect to to a person for correspondence. You  can contact them directly about their experience in the review section alone! And, last but not least, reviewers love to link to other cool stuff; either a restaurant you just HAVE to check out, another, possibly more accommodating hostel, a link to an activities calendar for a particular neighborhood, the list goes on and on.

There’s a lot to consider when considering a hostel, but know this- all of it is fun and makes you CHOOSE your vacation. Hotels have fixed or standard accommodations but are a bit pricier. Instead of thinking of it as traveling on the cheap, consider it a must-have experience- living with other young kids looking to have fun and explore. I definitely can’t wait to hostel through Montreal. Where was your favorite place to stay in a hostel?

Where am I going? Where have I been?

I am in the process of trying to jump-start a sort of career for myself. I am a self-admitted late bloomer when it comes to traveling, but the prospect of writing and traveling is so appealing, that I am trying my hardest to carve something out of what was previously “nothing.”

I never daydreamed about being a travel writer, especially as a little kid. I never really hoped for a career as a child, for a line of work in which I’d find fulfillment in adulthood. My brain didn’t think like that. Like most children, it thought about after school and weekends. Where my parents would be taking us next. What our next family vacation might be. If we would have time to squeeze a quick fishing-and-picnic-by-the lake hangout in the woods near our home after we all got home from school. I wasn’t worried about making money. I hadn’t foreseen the sometimes grim realities of maturity. I hadn’t considered, while I was lacing up my ice-skates on to glide across the frozen creek near my house growing up, that I may have one day been sitting behind a desk, trying to figure out where I had gone wrong in life that I was working a boring job for a “living.” I guess the only thing that really stood out to me as a young person, old enough to be cognizant that work IS, indeed, part of life, is that what’s even more a part of life is living. I knew that I wanted to earn a living, not earn an earning.

I also knew, from a young age, that I loved to vacation. I loved to see new places. We were fortunate enough to be able to take some great family vacations while I was growing up. We had been to California, Florida, Colorado, Mexico, Wisconsin, Michigan, Missouri, South Carolina, The Bahamas,and so many other cool places before I was age 16. I was always excited at the prospect of picking up and being dropped off in a different place, completely devoid of my knowledge, figuring it out, and having fun.

I also have always loved writing. I have kept journals my whole life. I fill about 1 per year. Sadly, I don’t still have all of them from my youth, but I started to keep them starting at age 19. I believe I now have 5, and my sixth is nearly full. This doesn’t count the amount of online journals I’ve kept, this being close to the 7th or 8th. I studied writing in college. I freelance write to help pay extra bills. I’ve been published in two major publications. But there’s still something more I want.

I want to be able to see some parts of the world, write and have it published. It’s not greed or jealousy or lust. It’s just a goal. It’s a goal that’s been in motion essentially my whole life. When I piece together my past and learn that I never envisioned the career of “travel writer” for myself, I do see the connection to why travel writing holds such an attractive quality. Rather than becoming rich monetarily (although you could make a handsome living), what’s more is that your life is enriched with experience. Perhaps one of the most rewarding trade-offs you get is seeing new places and doing new things as your job.

I moved to Philadelphia last fall and after a few months of gaining my bearings, my mind opened to the possibility of getting started on a career I’d actually enjoy. I have time and again refused the notion that success means working at an office for a salary. I can’t and won’t accept that. I’m too fascinated by everything around me. I am not, however, fascinated by printers, monitors, conference rooms and elevators (unless any of these things in any way are in a really cool place). I reject “normalcy” and I’m proud of that. Although not everything’s perfect.

While my first travel writing piece was published in May in the Philadelphia Inquirer, which I consider a major milestone, by the way, it’s certainly not the end of the line. I struggle with why I can’t be one of those people that gets up, backpacks through life, and funds her travels on freelance. Maybe I can get to that point, but I have a long way to go. I struggle with the fact that I’ve only been out of the country twice, and those were mini excursions to very close, popular areas.

Up until a few months ago, the idea of a passport had never even crossed my mind. A trip to Costa Rica early next year? Who would have thunk it? Hosting international travelers through my home to stay on my couch so that hopefully when I have enough money to travel abroad people might do the same? Preposterous. Writing for my community newspaper to save up for travel writing classes (that most importantly means signing up to an open network of opportunities) would have seemed all too much just six months ago.

I guess the point of this post is, to reaffirm, if only in my mind alone, that I am going to do it. I am determined to finish the travel writing courses, make connections and try to self-promote my stuff as much as possible. My goal is to at least get one sponsored press trip. And my goals after that are too lofty to mention, but once I achieve that milestone, I will work on attaining them.

On U.S. Passports

It was my mentor and idol Anthony Bourdain who lamented at the percentage of adults who do not have their U.S. passport, somewhere in the sad vicinity of 20-40 percent. It’s hard to find an exact statistic, but no matter what the exact percentage, Americans should be ashamed of their insular nature. While it is more of a challenge to travel throughout different countries, as we are a bit more isolated than say, Europe, we still should make it a priority to obtain our U.S. Passport.

I’m no angel. I just applied for mine last week for the first time! The only out-of-country traveling I have ever done has been to the Bahamas and Mexico, back in the times when a passport was not necessary to travel to such countries. I slipped in and out of Tijuana with ease. Now THAT’S a scary thought!

Some Passport essential information:

1. For first time applicants, get ready to fork over $135 bucks, $110 of that being the passbook charge and $25 for the execution fee.

2. Make sure you get all your documentation straight. You’ll need your original birth certificate with a RAISED seal, your driver’s license, a copy of both documents and passport photos. If you bring it all to an accepted facility (I chose a post office), they will give you the application form, wait while you fill it out, verify your information is correct and sign it. They will also sell you the money order necessary for the Department of State. And they take credit cards! The only suggestion I have is to get your photos taken elsewhere. I had my mug snapped at a print shop for $8 while the post office charged $15. Shop around!

3. It takes between 4-6 weeks to receive your passport in the mail. Keep that in mind if you are making international travel plans. If you need an expedited service, it’s an additional $60, and you should receive your passport 2 weeks from the application date.

For more information on logistics, visit

Well, what are you waiting for? Get out there and get traveling!

Washington D.C. in 24 hours

It CAN be done!

Hour 1/ 1 p.m. : Arrive. Check into Holiday Inn near the Capitol Building. Avoid getting lost on the grid highway system. Feel proud that once you get there, with hardly enough time to gain your bearings, you’re still able to give a guy on the street directions to the parking garage. Well done.

Statuesque in D.C. Courtesy Bree Kozak

Hour 2/ 2 p.m. : After check in and baggage drop off, proceed to the National Mall and enter The National Gallery of Art. Find happiness in French Colonial paintings and value in Italian Neoimpressionism. Or whatever that means. Decide the coolest thing there is a painting by Salvador Dali.

Hour 3/ 3 p.m. : Make your way toward the Capitol building. Upon hiking there in 95 degree heat, discover where your tour begins is actually in the BACK of the Capitol building. Bitch and whine, trek around the uphill sidewalk and make snide, clever remarks like, “No wonder they call it Capitol HILL”

Hours 4 & 5/  3 p.m.-4:45 p.m. : Tour the Capitol building, albeit much too fast. It’s crowded, the last tour of the day.  Gaze at a painting on the Rotunda’s ceiling of Washington surrounded by 15 women. Decide he’s a pimp.

Last stretch of hour 5/  4:45-5 p.m.: Run through the botanical garden before it closes. Marvel at the awesome tropical flora, despite the fact that it’s hotter it in here than it is outside. Kick yourself for promising yourself relief from the heat, but pat yourself on the back that you squeezed in three attractions in 3 hours

Hours 6 & 7/ 6 p.m.-8 p.m.: Pause just long enough to fill yourself with the slightly overpriced Holiday Inn restaurant buffet. Decide the best thing to do after filling your stomach would be to go swimming.

Hours 8 & 9/ 8 p.m.-10 p.m.: Make your way to the rooftop pool. Almost fall over at the sight of 60 kids in the pool. Decide it’s because D.C. closes at five and there’s nothing else to do. Get sucked into the most awesome full-pool game of beach ball. Remark that you have never had so much fun with perfect strangers in an over-crowded pool. Begin to love Washington D.C.-goers.

Hours 10 – 20/ 10 p.m.-8 a.m.: Unwind and SLEEP!

Fury Friends at Smithsonian Courtesy Bethany Kozak

Hour 20/ 9 a.m.: Make way to the Smithsonian Natural History Museum. Have the most fun looking at stuffed mammal exhibit, ocean exhibit. Become essentially overcome by the Geology, Gems and Minerals exhibit. Fantasize about mining for gold, discovering turquoise in Arizona and finding outrageously beautiful rock segments in Brazil. Remind yourself to keep dreaming.

Hours 21-22/ 10 a.m.-noon: Walk around the National Mall. Look at the Washington Monument. Gaze at the WWII Memorial. Walk all the way to the Lincoln Memorial and complain how far the walk is. Get there, and realize the Reflection Pool is devoid of water. Ruin your photo Op, but vow to return when Reflection Pool nears completion. Walk past White House but don’t get close because it’s too far to walk.

Hours 22-24/ Noon-2 p.m.: Stumble upon The Smithsonian Folklife festival and eat some hot, delicious Columbian food. Run to the Smithsonian Museum of American History. Run through to see Julia Child’s kitchen, an awesome recreation of the Chicago El in the 1950s, see a display of the original muppets by Jim Henson, and take pictures of the hippie/1960s giftshop.  Return to hotel to depart back for Philadelphia.

Wrap it up: In 24 hours, we visited 3 museums, the botanical garden, the Capitol Building (complete with tour), The Washington Monument, the World War II Memorial, the Lincoln Memorial, saw the White House from afar….all on foot! This is proof that D.C. is dooable, and ENJOYABLE in 24 hours. Cheers!

One of many reasons to love Philly

The longer I stay in Philadelphia, the longer I discover the creative and artistic hub it is. Check out this video I shot of an impromptu jazz troupe performing on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway on Fourth of July. They were young, talented and great free entertainment. Get down!

Secrets of the Shore- New Jersey Beaches Pt. 3

It’s been a cause for celebration lately, it being summer and my family and friends being in town at the same time and all, which means, lucky you—an influx of postings! Shortly after my best friend Colleen came into town for the month, we headed to none other than the Jersey Shore. She had never been there before. I have been to a few beaches a few times, and it was time to check out a place I have only been to once, late at night for a horseshoe crab survey.

Part III: Cape May, New Jersey

Getting there: The route getting to Cape May from Philadelphia differed slightly from other beaches on the shoreline. Since Cape May is located at the southernmost tip of New Jersey, the drive was a tad bit longer (think 1 hour 45 minutes). But with good company, conversation and music, the drive is a breeze! You want to take the Atlantic City Expressway East and The Garden State Parkway South for most of the drive. For logistics, I won’t insult you. You know to Google Map it or use a GPS.

Getting around: Like many of the shore towns, driving is relatively easy. The “main drag” as I like to always call it is Beach Avenue (not surprisingly) where you find all the beach access points. Beach access for the day is $5, and unlike Long Beach Island, they do patrol, so bring your cash! Bikes are for rent from many different shops, if you prefer to get around that way. Or do like the locals do and skateboard the streets in your bikini! If you get tired of the crowds along Beach Avenue, head in your car about 3 miles NW down New England Road and discover the quiet, untamed New Jersey wilderness that is Higbee Beach.

Enter the wild and exotic Higbee Beach

Higbee Beach: Once a hot spot for nudists, Higbee Beach is the sort of place only locals know about. You have to hike through a wooded area to get there, and there are no amenities, no lifeguards, and best of all no rules! Don’t sunbathe nude, because you will run into the occasional dog walker or sunbather. They say you shouldn’t swim there because there are sunken docks and old boat remains near the shore. If that doesn’t scare you away from taking a dip, maybe the epic sized Jellyfish and Horseshoe crabs will! Whether you gain the courage to take a dip or not is up to you, but one thing’s for sure: you won’t be battling for space on this remote stretch of beach. 

Pastel-colored homes in Cape May

Atmosphere: Cape May is the sort of place young, affluent families vacation. Hardly a hard-knock in sight, yuppies abound here. Not that it’s all bad. The beach town reminded me of Destin, Florida and Key West combined, just without all the drunken debauchery of Key West. Imagine the small-town feel you get in the Truman Show and match that with some of the playfulness you see in Key West and you have an about right image. Restaurants could be a little pricey for the young and struggling, so don’t discount packing lunch before you go or checking out a cheap deli/sandwich shop for grub. After the beach, it was hard to find a beach bar with live entertainment or even good drink specials. The most party-friendly place we could find was giving away tables to families with highchairs and providing them crayons. While there’s nothing wrong with children, it definitely was not the beach-town atmosphere I was looking for as a young person. If you want a little bit of a party scene, Cape May (at least the main drag) might not be the place for you.

Good times: We all enjoyed swimming out past where the waves broke in the Atlantic, letting the larger waves carry us to and fro while floating on our backs. We also snuck some beer onto the beach and enjoyed those until the midday sun threatened to dehydrate us. Higbee Beach was an awesome find, and having your own piece of paradise is always great!

Whatchu Say?! Moments: While on the main beach, the lifeguard whistled at us and made us come back into shore, saying we had swim out to far, and that, in fact, we were in a designated non-swim zone, even though the actual swim zone was about 20 feet away. Also, at Higbee Beach, the Jellyfish and Horseshoe crab population might be enough to make you run for the hills, not the water. Since you technically aren’t supposed to swim there anyway because of the debris, I can’t knock on the wildlife too hard.

Horseshoe Crabs not your thing? Mine neither

In a nutshell: A great getaway for the day or a couple of days. I would definitely come back, although I might stay for a night or two since the drive is almost 2 hours in each direction. Also, I must say, a lesson to be learned from the trip is to trek the road less traveled! Without doing so, we would have never found the best part- Higbee beach. There is a reason why Cape May is often praised for having some of the best beaches in the world. As far as accessibility, value, beauty and location is concerned, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better way to spend an afternoon-or week!