+ Van Life Workouts

Van Life Workouts

Our health and wellness is really important to us but living on the road can make meeting fitness goals challenging. We run several times a week and when we’re driving for long stretches at a time, we often pull over and take a moving break. A lot of times it’s only a five or ten minute burst of activity, but it’s enough to bring us back to life. The best part is, you don’t need a lot of equipment since most of these mini-workouts involve using your own body weight. Sometimes we get funny looks thrown in our direction when we’re doing jumping jacks in a parking lot, but hey, you gotta do what you gotta do, right? If you see us working out at a rest stop, pull over and join us!

Materials:

A beach towel or yoga mat (optional)
Water
Can-do attitude!

Are you ready for Van Life Workouts?

As you would with any other fitness routine or regimen, consult your physician to make sure this is a healthy option for you. Consider working with a personal trainer to make sure your form is correct and, as always, be sure to workout in a safe area. If you’re in a parking lot, make sure you are visible to other drivers and not putting yourself in harm’s way.

Van Pushups

If the thought of doing push-ups makes you want to cringe, no worries. Start out easy by doing one or two sets of 8-10 pushups on the hood of your van. (Put your hand near the hood first to make sure it’s not too hot!)

Van Life Workouts

Advanced Van Pushups

When you’re ready to make the leap to advanced pushups, either roll out that yoga mat and get down on the ground and get to work OR, put your hands on an object inside your van (for us it’s a storage box) and start busting out reps.Van Life Pushups

Jumping Jacks

An oldie but a goodie. Do your middle school teacher proud and extend your arms and legs all the way rather than letting your arms go limp.

Planks

Make your body stiff like a board (or a plank) by activating your core. Do your best to keep your back straight without any bends or dips in it. Hold for 10-15 seconds and then work your way up to 30 seconds or more. Use your yoga mat for this one if you have one! Rocks in parking lots never feel good.

Van Life Workouts

Yoga!

We are not yogis by any stretch of the imagination but we do love to go to a class here and there. It incredible how stiff your body can get after being folded up in a van for hours! What are some of your favorite yoga poses? Ours are warrior, cobra, cat and chair.

Calf raises

Hoist yourself up into your van so that your heels are hanging out over the edge. Slowly raise up on your toes, flexing your calves and then lower back down. Bonus points if you have a great view to look at while you’re doing your reps.

Van Life Calf Raises

“B” Skips

These are basically skips with a kick at the end. Try to keep your back straight while doing them and kick up only so far that you feel a slight stretch. You should not feel a lot of pain! If you do feel a lot of pain, don’t raise your kicking leg as high.

Van Life B Skips

Van Life Workouts Recap

Notes: As you would with any other fitness routine or regimen, consult your physician to make sure this is a healthy option for you. Consider working with a personal trainer to make sure your form is correct as always, be sure to workout in a safe area. If you’re in a parking lot, make sure you are visible to other drivers and not putting yourself in harm’s way.

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+ Van Life: Myth vs. Reality

Van Life: Myth vs. Reality

Are you dreaming of going on an endless vacation and living out of your car or truck or van? Do you look at Instagram accounts of people in awesome VW buses and vanagons and think, man that life looks AWESOME! If so, read on to learn about some common beliefs about life on the road…Van Life: Myth vs. Reality.

1. Myth: Everywhere we camp is beautiful

Reality: Though more often than not we park in really amazing places, there have been numerous times when we’ve slept in a Wal-Mart parking lot. It has it’s perks for sure in that it’s flat, there’s a bathroom inside and it’s relatively safe but nothing quite shocks you awake as realizing the person in the car next to you is watching you brush your teeth. We just wave and smile when that happens.

Van Life: myth vs. reality

At a Wal-Mart in Tennessee

2. Myth: We never get homesick

Reality: Bad weather has a way of making us miss home. Luckily, like the storms, the feeling always passes. This is a lot easier to overcome since we’re traveling together and a bit more difficult when you’re out on the road solo.

beautiful camping1

Home is where you park it?

3. Myth: It’s always a party

Reality: Though we listen to a lot of music and have been caught rocking out at red lights more than once, it’s not always a car commercial where we’ve got it blasting as loud as it will go. This is actually our work, too. We do a good bit of writing and editing while in motion. When we’re not writing and editing we’re creating content, designing websites, responding to e-mails and making sure we’re meeting deadlines for various assignments.Caroline Whatley Working

4. Myth: We live a stress-free life

Reality: Van life has led to lots of feelings of uncertainty. Seems like no matter what it is you do in life, stress is part of the human experience. Yet it’s interesting hear people say to us that we seem brave to live our van life dream. We always tell them when they say this to us that we actually have moments of real fear and uncertainty to work though. Sometimes it’s felt more stressful to live a van life than it was to navigate our previous lives which had a bit more stability and structure.

Van Life: myth vs. reality

Do I look like I know what I’m doing?

4. Myth: We’re totally in control

Reality: Haha we would be joking if we said we have a complete grasp on van life. We’re learning all the time and as fast as we can but a lot of this experience has been trial and error. It seems like the plan is always changing. We have the big picture figured out (for the most part) but a lot of the time we don’t know which direction we’re headed or where we’ll be beyond a week or so. A good bit of flexibility is required of us almost all the time. It’s good practice for letting go but it totally presents it’s own set of unique challenges.

Van life: myth vs. reality

It’s awesome to have someone to do this life with!

 

5. Myth: We eat out all the time

Reality: When we’re on a press trip we eat incredibly well; it’s fair to say we eat better than we could ever imagine. But don’t be fooled by all of our beautiful photos of food and coffee and cocktails. Because when when we’re not on an actual assignment we make do with leftovers and easy-to-make food like cup of noodles, hard boiled eggs and bananas with peanut butter on ’em. Part of it is the hassle of cooking on the road and part of it is cost. It’s expensive to eat out and we’re on a budget. But if you’ve ever had a simple meal in the woods or around a campfire or while looking at the ocean, you know that even so-so food can taste amazing if you’re in a beautiful spot.

Van Life myth vs. reality

Not sure how many times a week we eat Ramen – at least twice.

6. Myth: We always agree on where or what to do

Reality: We often want to do the same things which makes it easy but there are moments when we’ve had to practice really good listening, employ as much patience as possible and find common ground. Sharing one vehicle means you’re going to have to figure the details out together. It’s been a great way for us to learn each other even better. We’re coming up on our one year anniversary (have we ever told you how we got married?!)Van Life: myth vs. reality

 

 

Van Life: Myth vs. Reality recap

Are you surprised by any of these van life myths or realities? It’s definitely a departure from what you commonly see on Instagram. Some of these realities have been a shock to us but overall we’re loving what we’re doing and are happy to take the little bit of bad that comes with a ton of good. If you’re living or have lived the van life, do any of these ring true for you?

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Wayfarer Vans Plug-N-Play Camper Van Kit!

Today was a big day for us! We got our empty Ram ProMaster cargo van converted into something that is going to make life on the road a lot more doable. Our solution? The Wayfarer Vans Plug-N-Play Camper Van Kit! (To learn more about why we chose this kit, head on over here.)

We spent the night in Colorado Springs because we had an appointment at 9am to meet with Ian, the owner of Wayfarer Vans. We found his space easy enough and a little before nine we pulled into his workshop and started unloading all of our stuff so he and his guys could begin the conversion!

Van Life Conversion

wayfarer99wayfarer96Step 1: Installing the floor

After we got all of our belongings removed, the first step to our camper van conversion was installing the floor.wayfarer98

Wayfarer Van Life Conversion 3

Wayfarer Van Life Conversion Kit Installation

Wayfarer Van Life Conversion 5

wayfarer95Step 2: Attaching the insulation

After that it was installing the insulation, which uses magnets to keep it in place!Wayfarer Van Life Conversion 6

Wayfarer Van Life Conversion 8

wayfarer93wayfarer92wayfarer91Step 3: Add the boxes

Once the floor and insulation pieces are in place, the next step is bringing in the boxes.Wayfarer Van Life Conversion2

Wayfarer Van Life Conversion 9

Wayfarer Van Life Conversion 10The first one that went in was the one behind the driver and passenger seats. Unlike other vans, ours came empty and without any seats in the back. It was basically a cargo van which was perfect because we didn’t have to remove anything in order to start our conversion.

Next up was the side box. We were so impressed with not only how quick the guys worked but how careful they were during the process. They also swept the interior several times and washed down the surfaces – we really appreciated their attention to cleanliness and detail.Wayfarer Van Life Conversion 11

wayfarer89After the side box was put in place, then the kitchen boxes were added! The design of these are so unique and one of our favorite features. You can open them from the inside by lifting up on the top as well as when standing outside with the doors open. Notice how they fold up on themselves?

Wayfarer Van Life Conversion 12Wayfarer Van Life Conversion 13

wayfarer88After the boxes were installed, then they added the table! Check out the way it folds up when not in use as well as the way it stays in place when down.

Step 4: Install the table

Wayfarer Van Life Conversion 15Wayfarer Van Life Conversion 16

Once the table was installed, we were done. The whole thing only took a little over an hour!

Step 5: Load your stuff back in and go!

Wayfarer Van Life Conversion 17

Wayfarer Van Plug-N-Play Camper Van Kit Recap

Although we just had our kit installed, we can already tell that it’s going to make a huge impact on our ability to live out of our van. Some things we can already appreciate:

  • the insulation has reduced noise while driving
  • storage has been increased
  • organization is now possible
  • we now have a table for working and eating on
  • there is a bed!
  • the space is functional and feels good

I’m sure that over time we’ll be able to add to this list but this is what we’ve discovered so far.

Do you have a camper van? If so, how did you convert it? We’d love to hear your thoughts about life on the road so please leave your comments below! Thanks and VAN ON!

+ Van Life

Why We Chose the Wayfarer Van Conversion Kit

We get more than a little excited putting energy into planning our road trips, whether they are for work or play. Thankfully they are often a mixture of both. There is a plethora of information on the web these days on how to convert your van into a camper. As much as we love a building project, if there is one we know for sure, it’s that these things take WAY more time than we ever truly budget. And right now that’s not something we have a lot of. So rather than spending months building out our new van to make it road-worthy and livable, we decided to opt for a different solution. And thankfully, a really creative man in Colorado Springs has created a modular kit for the RAM ProMaster City Cargo Tradesman. The following is a breakdown of why we chose the Wayfarer Van Conversion Kit.

Replacing this situation … because it IS a situation lol.

Pros of the Wayfarer Van Kit

The Wayfarer Van kit seems efficient. Ian’s layout is multifunctional and simple. In his own words it’s a ‘plug-n-play’ system. There is no clutter to his design. He uses plywood that is precision-cut, sanded, and clear coated. His kits are pre-assembled, 100% modular and designed specifically for the Ram ProMaster. Installation only takes 2 hours and uses the factory installed framework of the vehicle to bolt to.

What’s so great about a modular system? Well, if you want to use your van to haul firewood or a handful of bikes, you just unbolt the boxes. Your van is then empty and ready for you to pack. If, later down the road, you want to sell your vehicle, you haven’t made any permanent changes to the vehicle itself. You just need to unbolt the boxes, take down the insulated panels on the roof and walls, and all is new again.

Basically, the conversion kit comes with insulated wall and ceiling panels, a wood floor, and a series of boxes that provide a platform for the bed and storage within. The boxes at the rear of the van serve as a kitchen pantry and open from the top as well as the front. The set of boxes along the side wall and behind the seats are for storage and have hinged doors on the top. There is also a very handy table top that folds up on one wall so that when not in use, it’s out of the way with a few swift movements.

The cargo van comes as an empty shell without any insulation or padding to absorb road noise. The Wayfarer Kit has molded open-cell foam panels covered in durable fabric and studded with heavy magnets. All you have to do is pop them in place on the walls, wheel wells, and roof and your van is insulated. These panels will make your van feel like home in an instant.

Cons

The cushions Ian provides for the kit are only 2 inches thick; not as plush as we would like for sleeping on. He recommends blow up camping pads for sleeping and his cushions for day/work use and while we think his solution is a good one, we want our one cushion/mattress to serve both purposes.

Solutions

We’re considering the Exped SIM Comfort Duo 7.5. It completely covers the bed platform which is 48 inches wide. It’s also durable enough to stay inflated for everyday use. The Exped appears to easily fold in half lengthwise and clips together with hooks and loops. This feature is great because we can use the same pad as the bench cushion. Fully inflated, the pad is 3 inches thick. We think we’ll still have plenty of headroom even when sitting up in bed. 

Van Life Recap

Van Life - Flagstaff, Arizona

In just a few days we’ll be getting our Wayfarer Conversion Kit!

We’re currently in Flagstaff, Arizona finishing up a press trip for dapperQ and are headed to Colorado Springs next to get our van outfitted with a Wayfarer Van Conversion Kit! We spent a lot of time researching the correct vehicle for us and we’re hoping that the Wayfarer is just as good a fit. We have every reason to believe it will be and are more than a little excited about it!

Follow along with us on Instagram! We’ll be photographing the installation and we’ll be sure to let you know what we think!

Do you have a Wayfarer Van Conversion Kit or an Exped SIM Comfort Duo 7.5 mat? If so, we’d love to hear from you! Please leave your comments below as well as any other suggestions or solutions you may have!

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The Oregon Coast

The Samuel H. Boardman State Scenic Corridor is a 12 mile linear park along the Oregon Coast. Just north of the California border and along Route 101, it is easily one of the most beautiful places we’ve ever been to and one of the highlights of our cross country road trip. Oh, and guess what, it’s completely free.

Samuel H. Boardman State Scenic Corridor

We first found out about this park on Instagram. Some of our favorite photographers regularly share their work from this place. In a way, it was almost surreal to be there in person. Has that ever happened to you? Where maybe you’ll see or read about something and then you actually get to experience it? Sometimes it can lead to disappointment but not in this case. The Samuel H. Boardman State Scenic Corridor more than lived up to our expectations. In lots of ways it was even better in real life.

One of the incredible views along the Samuel H. Boardman corridor

The park was named after the first Oregon Parks superintendent. We are so thankful for the vision that he and other park stewards had years ago that made this land available for us to visit.

Caroline Whatley taking a photo along the OregonCoast

This spot was almost too good to be true.

Plant life along the Oregon Coast

Tiny little worlds along the coast.

Rugged coastline along the Oregon Coast

It’s just a rock and yet it’s so darn beautiful!

Erin McGrady hiking the Samuel H. Boardman trail

Hiking to find the coast

The hidden experience

What I wish you could see in our photographs is the sound of the waves, the way the trail crunches underfoot and the joy we felt at every bend in the trail. Obviously, we were far from being among the first to discover this place but we did have that feeling of adventure that only comes from seeing amazing things and encountering few others (I think we ran into one other human being that morning).

waves breaking on the beach in Oregon

It was so hard to leave this spot.

the Oregon Coast

You should have heard us yell when we saw this place!

Though the corridor itself is 12 miles long there are 27 miles of Oregon Coast Trail to hike or trail run. We highly recommend pulling over at Arch Rock and Natural Bridges as this is where many of our photographs were taken.

the glorious Oregon coast

Already itching to get back here!

the Oregon coast.

Making the most of early morning light.

Behind the scenes

We got up in the dark for this photo shoot, skipped our daily run, skipped coffee, skipped breakfast and drove south until we reached the Samuel H. Boardman Scenic State Corridor. We’d driven north through the corridor a few weeks before we took these photos. That first pass through this area was a mixture of scouting out the location and being frustrated at not getting the shots we wanted. The second time through we had a better idea of what we wanted to shoot and where to be at first light. As with most photographers, we’re itching to get back and re-shoot certain areas and try to improve our images.

Have you been here?

If so, what’d you think? If you’ll be visiting the Oregon Coast soon, we’d love to see and hear about your trip!

 

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Common Road Trip Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

This list of some common road trip mistakes and how to avoid them came from our trials and errors on the road as well as conversations with other travelers. We hope they will save you time and money rather than you having to experience them for yourself. How many of them have you made?

Not packing enough food or drinks.

Uh, if you’re hangry, no one else is happy. If someone else is hangry, they’re no fun to be around. Do everyone a favor and pack a ton of snacks and drinks. Real food beats cheap sugar snacks that you buy just because you’re starving. There has been more than one occasion when I’ve failed to bring enough food on an adventure and then when I finally find a gas station I go in and buy all of the Combos, several Snickers bars, a chocolate covered granola bar and at least one Mountain Dew. Is that gross or awesome?

Erin McGrady eating in Colorado

Snack break in Rocky Mountain National Park!

Not having a plan.

Sometimes getting in the car and just setting out is exactly what you want and what you need. And then other times it’s exactly what leads to frustration and irritation. We’ve found that it’s best to have a general idea of where to point the car. It cuts down on gas consumption and lost time and reduces trip “fails.” You know what I mean, right? When you set out and then end up spinning your wheels so that at the end of the day you feel like you didn’t do or see anything cool. There’s enough stuff out there on the internet these days that with a little bit of research, you can put yourself on the good stuff without a lot of wasted effort.

Having too much of a plan.

Am I confusing you yet? I just told you to go ahead and come up with a plan and now I’m telling you that having too much of a plan is a common road trip mistake? We’ve found that by jam-packing our day and coming up with too much of a plan just leads to stress. It’s sort of self-defeating in a sense because we’re trying to have an adventure and yet too much of a plan brings that to a screeching halt. Balance, I guess, is what we’re trying to emphasize.

Not carrying a spare tire.

Do you actually know where your spare tire is? Better question is, do you even have a spare tire? And is it a doughnut or an actual regular-size tire? If you don’t know the answers, there’s no shame! But go looking for it AND the jack before you actually need either of them. And then either teach yourself or get someone to show you how to change it for yourself in a pinch.

middle of the road in Joshua Tree National Park

If you’re in the desert and have a problem, can you work your way out of it?

Relying on your cell phone for navigation.

It’s hard to believe that in 2018 there are places in the country where you do not have a cell phone signal. But there are numerous places out there that are worth going to that flat-out will not let you send or receive messages or calls not to mention use your GPS. Arm yourself with a compass, a good detailed map and/or atlas and slowly wean yourself off of digital directions. Who knows, you might actually really enjoy navigating without some annoying automated voice telling you when to turn.

Running out of fuel.

car on a dirt road near Yosemite National Park

Do you have enough gas to get where you’re going?

 

Uhhhh … it happens to the best of us. But nothing says buzz kill like watching the gas light come on and realizing the next fueling station is about 20 miles away. Does this mean carry spare gas with you all the time? Not necessarily. It just means having enough situational awareness to know when to top off your tank and when it’s safe to keep on truckin’. We tend to err on the more conservative side of things by refueling when sometimes we’ve still got 3/4 of a tank left. This was hard-won learning. When we first started traveling together, we had a number of close calls where we coasted on into the gas station on fumes and cuss words. I’d rather roll into town with the windows down and the music up but hey, gotta take a few lumps in the beginning, right? Right?

Neglecting vehicle maintenance.

Start by buying or traveling in a reliable vehicle. Do not go for vintage unless you know what the hell you’re doing. (More on that later, we’re just not ready to write about that yet – it’s too damn painful!) At the very least get regular oil changes. Tire rotations, changing the filters, tune ups, all of that stuff is money well spent. You know the old saying “an ounce of prevention…” We just recently purchased a Ram ProMaster and will be doing our very best to keep her in great working condition.

longhorn steer in a rearview mirror

Hindsight is always 20/20 …

Driving too much in a day.

Travel is supposed to be fun but beating the road for hours at a time can get even the best of us down. We’ve done long stretches of driving, but we find we’re happiest keeping the days behind the wheel short and sweet and spending the rest of our time exploring.

Are you road trip ready? Come take our Quiz!

Road Trip Ready?! Take our Quiz!

 

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+ mountain view in Asheville, North Carolina

Free and Fun Things to Do in Asheville

Asheville, North Carolina is a great place to live and to visit. The food scene is on-point, the coffee here is amazing, we’ve got tons of breweries, and there are enough things to do to keep you busy for a very long time. But if you’re looking to have a fun time on a budget or without spending any money at all, you’ve come to the right place. We’ve put together a list of some of our favorite free and fun things to do in Asheville that won’t cost you any money. How many of them have you done?

Go Instagramming!

There are so many fun spots to photograph in Asheville. One of our favorite places is down at the Foundation where the Wedge Brewing Company and 12 Bones BBQ are located. There’s a ton of really cool street art and murals there and it’s always changing. West Asheville is another sweet spot for taking some cool Instagram photos. Also, though we might be biased because we call Asheville home, we recently put it into our list of the Best Cities for Street Art in the US! Join us for an Asheville Instameet sometime – a free event that we host for photographers of all skill levels!

Take a drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway

This is an awesome thing to do any time of year but if you come in the fall when the leaves are changing colors, you will be in for a special treat. Spring and summer are beautiful too because the mountains are green and lush. Winter has it’s own special charm – the trees are dead and brown but you can often see things you can’t during the rest of the year because the leaves are gone and it gives you an unobstructed view. Be sure to check the website above for road closures if you go during the winter.

Our dog, Maybelle at an overlook. (Don’t worry, we let her out right after we snapped the photo.)

Watch sunset from an overlook

Sounds romantic, and it is. It’s also fun to do alone. Take some snacks and hang out for a while. This is easily one of our favorite free and fun things to do in Asheville.

Drink free beer at Sierra Nevada

If this sounds too good to be true, fear not! It IS true! There are several different tours to choose from, the Heritage Tour, Beer Geek Tour and even Guided Barrel Tastings which DO cost money but the Brewery Tour is just that and it’s free. We did it about a year ago and had a blast.

Corn hole at Sierra Nevada anyone?!

Listen to live music downtown

Abby the Spoon Lady is probably the most well-known busker in Asheville. The best places to find buskers is near the Flat Iron statue on Battery Park Avenue, on Haywood Street by the Woolworth Walk and by Pack Square.

Hike!

Do you love being outside? If so, you’re in luck because Asheville is an outdoors-y kind of place. There are so many trails within a short drive that the hardest part might be deciding on which trail to hike! For some suggestions, head on over to Asheville Trails. They’ve got tons of great info on some of the best spots in Western North Carolina.

Caroline hiking near Asheville, North Carolina

Go to an Asheville Instameet!

A couple of times a year we host an Instameet. It’s a free photography event that’s open to all ages and skill levels. See below for more details.

#AshevilleInstameet FAQ

Ride bikes at the Velodrome

Sometimes it’s also called the Mellowdrome. The what? Haha, don’t worry if you don’t know what this is. A lot of people don’t. It’s basically an oval track for your bike and a place where you can go and train (or race) without fear of getting hit by cars. It’s recently undergone some renovations (new lighting, new fencing, a new surface!) and looks like it will open back up in the spring of 2018!

What do you think about our list of free and fun things to do in Asheville?

What are you favorite things to do that don’t cost any money? Did we miss anything? We’d love to know your thoughts!

 

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Best Coffee Shops in the US

If you love coffee and enjoy seeking out a great cup, you may want to consider adding these places to your list. They’re not only serving up excellent drinks but are also LGBTQ friendly places to gather and hang out. Below are our top picks of the best coffee shops in the United States.

Archive Coffee & Bar

102 Liberty Street NE, Suite 120, Salem, Oregon

Hands down one of the best coffee shops we’ve ever been to. The drinks and top-notch and the food is excellent as well. The best part? It’s also a bar. But not just any bar. The craft cocktails they offer are excellent. We recommend the Revolver where you pick the spirit and they do the rest.

latte art and salad in Archive Coffee and Bar

Archive Coffee and Bar in Salem, Oregon

Archive Coffee and Bar

Pull up a seat and settle in …

Archive Coffee and Bar

The inside space of Archive

Camber Coffee

221 W Holly St. Bellingham, Washington

You don’t really need an excuse to visit Bellingham. It’s cool enough on it’s own to warrant a visit. So if you go, be sure to check out Camber. It is soooo good in so many ways. Their coffees are unique, bright, balance and delicious. You must try the Kenya Karumandi AA. On second thought, try as many of them as you can. And order food … we had the cheese plate, the rosemary lamb burger, vegetable sandwich and it was all oh so very good.

inside Camber Coffee

Camber Coffee in Bellingham, Washington

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Narrative Coffee

2927 Wetmore Ave, Everett, Washington

Down to earth, super friendly baristas and of course, excellent coffee drinks make Narrative Coffee in Everett, Washington worth visiting. The space is really inviting. It has clean lines, rich wood, pretty exposed brick, white tile and succulents and is the kind of place that feels great to be in and of course, take Instagram photos.

latte art inside Narrative Coffee

Narrative Coffee in Everett, Washington

barista making latte art at Narrative Coffee

Always wanted to learn how to make latte art…

interior of Narrative Coffee

The space inside Narrative is one of our favorite things about it.

Odd’s Cafe

800 Haywood Rd, Ste. A, Asheville, North Carolina

Located in West Asheville, Odd’s Cafe is just a short walk from home for us. They offer Counter Culture coffee and locally baked goods (we almost always get the light roast and an everything bagel.) Though there are several coffee shops to choose from in Asheville, this is our favorite for many reasons: Audrie, the owner, is super friendly and her staff is, too. They have great stuff and serve it up without any pretension. Odd’s is also great at fostering a sense of community – there’s several different spaces for hanging out, community tables for working away from home, and maybe best of all, there is a call for artists to display their work on the shop walls. A new artist is featured each month and is also allowed to host an opening and/or closing event. It doesn’t get much better than that. Oh wait, they just started serving beer, too, so maybe it does. Maybe see you there sometime?

Caroline Whatley in Odd's Cafe

Odd’s is our favorite coffee shop in Asheville, North Carolina!

The Rise Coffee Bar

75 Wentworth Street, Charleston, South Carolina

Tucked inside the Restoration Hotel, we discovered this little coffee shop almost by accident. Grab a cup to-go, walk around downtown Charleston and see if you aren’t making your way back for a second cup.

RiseCoffee

Rival Brothers Coffee Bar

2400 Lombard Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

There’s three Rival Brother’s Coffee Bar locations in Philadelphia which means you’ll be able to stay caffeinated no matter where you are in the city. If you like clean, minimalist spaces, this is your kind of place. Oh, and their beans are roasted daily!

Rival Brothers

Rival Brothers Coffee in Philadelphia

Starbucks Reserve Roastery

1124 Pike Street, Seattle, Washington

This was Starbuck’s first reserve roastery. It opened in the Capitol Hill neighborhood in 2014 and has been bustling ever since. You can get coffees here that you can’t get anywhere else in the world. We know it’s a chain but we still thought it was really cool to visit and see. Would we pick it over one of the small, local shops as our regular spot? No, but it’s worth a look-see if you’re ever in Seattle.

starbucks

Starbucks Reserve Roastery in Seattle

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What do you think about our Best Coffee Shops in the US?

Where are your favorite places to get a great cappuccino or espresso? We understand if you want to keep your local knowledge to yourself. Trust us, we had a hard time deciding whether or not to put our favorites on the list for fear that they would only get more busy. But we also believe that great places deserve recognition and that they’ll continue to be awesome even if more and more people discover them.

If you liked this, you might also enjoy our list of the Best Places to Get a Drink in Asheville.

+ Standing outside the new Ram ProMaster

Why We Chose the Ram ProMaster for Van Life

We have done a good bit of road tripping over the last year in several different vehicles. From tent camping in a Toyota Matrix, RVing in a 1976 Toyota Chinook, and stealth camping in a 1998 Toyota 4 Runner, we’ve gone as far north as Canada on the east coast and as far west as the San Juan Islands in Washington. For a multitude of reasons (the Matrix is impractical for living out of and the other two vehicles died roadside mid-journey) we have recently invested in a new adventure mobile. Below we explain why we chose the Ram ProMaster!

About the Ram ProMaster

Make / Model
Ram ProMaster City Tradesman Cargo Van (For such a compact vehicle it’s got a whopper of a name!)

Year
2018

Specs
2.4 Liter Tigershark MultiAir 1-4 Engine
9 Speed 948TE FWD Automatic Transmission
Bright white exterior/black interior

View of the dash in the Ram ProMaster Van

The Ram ProMaster comes with a compass and backup camera!

The Tradesman Cargo version is completely empty in behind the front seats. No carpet, headliner, interior panels, or seats. It’s designed for working out of it. You can install shelves and drawers for tools and equipment, etc. This version was exactly what we wanted because we plan to live out of it for several months at a time. The van also has no rear windows. This makes stealth camping much much easier and we welcome the added privacy it will give us. If at some point we want more visibility we can easily replace any of the metal panels with tinted glass.

Pros

  • Blank Canvas

    The cargo area is a blank canvas which makes it perfect for outfitting for van camping. We will be able to cook, sleep, and work out of this van. Our Chinook was similar in size to the ProMaster. The Chinook beat out the ProMaster in one area: the top of the vehicle raised up so you could stand up to full height. It’s nice to be able to fully stretch out your legs after driving for longer spells.

  • Good Gas Mileage

    The 4 cylinder transmission gives us the best opportunity for efficient gas mileage. At 21mpg in the city and 28 mpg on the highway, we get an average of 24 mpg. Both the Chinook and 4Runner were gas guzzlers. In the last 2 months we have driven over 6,000 miles, so fuel economy really makes a big difference on our overall expenses.

  • Shape and Size

    The near vertical side walls in the cargo area of the van allow for more comfort. No more cramped, squished getting in or out of bed. No more permanent forward head tilt when leaning against the side trying to read or write or type. At roughly 17 feet, the ProMaster City is easy to parallel park and also has no problem being able to take advantage of parking garages. (We would like to NEVER repeat the time we came up out of an underground parking garage in NYC to hear the entire roof of the Chinook scraping the roof beam of the garage.)

    interior of the Ram ProMaster 2018 Van

    The interior of our Ram ProMaster Van!

  • NEW WARRANTY!

    Up until this point we have done the majority of our travel either in a vehicle older than ourselves or close enough to it. We have lost an entire week to sitting at different mechanics waiting for our old cars to get fixed. This lead to a significant amount of stress worrying that at any point we might become stranded or held up again. The unreliability of our adventure mobiles affected the confidence we felt in driving into remote areas to explore. Not to mention, our pocketbooks and our financial planning. We can’t wait to get back on the road feeling sure footed and backed by a hefty warranty.

    Erin McGrady jumping in front of the Indian River Inlet Bridge in Delaware

    Up at the Indian River Inlet, Delaware in the new van!

Cons

  • We can’t stand up all the way.
    At some point we may eventually upgrade to a vehicle that allows us to stand up all the way rather than stoop or crawl. Maybe someday! For now, we’re tickled pink at our new rig because it’s a huge upgrade from what we had.
  • It doesn’t have a bathroom or a sink.

Moving Forward. (Pun intended?)

We have a full-on obsession with VW vans (and adventure-mobiles in general). Caroline even had a ‘67 split window bus for a few years that served her quite well. Though we didn’t even consider a newer VW for our next camper van, we were thrilled to find a small company to buy our camper kit from that feels like a Volkswagen! Ian of Wayfarer Vans – Plug N Play Camper Van Kits has come up with two different kits to turn your cargo van into a camper van. His kits work for the ProMaster City Cargo Tradesman or the Promaster Cargo Van High Roof.

Have you outfitted your van with one of these kits? If so, what did you think? We’d love to hear from you and are excited to hear what you’ll think about our van conversion!

** A special thank you to Erin’s Mom and Dad who helped us shop around for this van, find the perfect one for us and also get a great deal. Love you both so much!!! Thanks for all of your support in our adventures.

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+ Caroline Whatley holding a book in Delaware

Books That Inspire Us to Travel

Inspiration comes in so many forms these days. For starters, there’s YouTube, Instagram and Facebook. But for us, nothing quite has the same effect on us as a really great book. As such, we’ve created a list of our favorite books that inspire us to travel. How many of these have you read?

Need a little travel inspiration?

We’ve broken down some of our favorite books into categories to help you decide on the perfect book for you.

If you love the water:

Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life by William Finnegan
This book was given to me by my mom’s best friend, Debbie Harmon, on a recent visit to her home in Santa Fe. Over dinner the discussion turned to books and she walked right over to her shelf and chose this one for me. I’ve been reading it slowly, savoring it, really, in the way one does with great books. As you might guess, it’s focus is on surfing.

Erin McGrady holding a book at the beach

Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life by William Finnegan

Dove by Robin Lee Graham
I first read this book when I was 22 and living on Andros Island. Boats were fairly new to me at this point in my life and I was spellbound at the thought of someone going on a solo adventure at sea on a 24 foot sailboat.

If you dream of road trips and van life:

Van Life: Your Home on the Road by Foster Huntington
If you love pictures of vans and get starry eyed at the thought of living the van life, put this book on your reading list. It’s photo-heavy and the images are so cool … vans parked in all kinds of places, peeks at the inside of unique rigs … you know the deal.

woman reading in a car

Reading on the road!

On the Road by Jack Kerouac
This is a story about a cross-country road trip that Kerouac took with Neal Cassidy. I read this in my early twenties and it continues to inspire us to hit the road and seek out our own adventures, just like it has countless others who have read it.

Raw Spirit: In Search of the Perfect Dram by Iain Banks
Do you love road trips? Do you love whiskey? If either (or both) of these are true for you, then this is the book for you. Follow Banks on a tour of Scotland as he goes from distillery to distillery and see if you’re not searching the internet for a plane ticket to see and taste for yourself.

Hiking Marin

This book, Hiking Marin, isn’t on the list but it was cool to flip through.

If you love nature and hiking:

A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson
My grandfather recommended this book to me because it had to do with a shared love of ours: the Appalachian Trail. He read it first and told me to give it a try. It sat on the shelf for years before I read it but he was right.

If you want a book that pulls at your heart:

Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
Gilbert leave behind a marriage and a career in search of something else. Her life-changing journey takes readers through three countries and in doing so, explores themes such as pleasure (Italy), devotion (India) and Bali (balance).

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
For years after reading this book, I would buy extra copies to have them on hand and would give them out to friends who I thought might appreciate it. It had that big of an impact on me. It’s one of the rare books I’ve read more than once. It’s not your typical travel book, but it’s on the list because it impacted the course of my life and led to decisions that placed value on following dreams.

Did any of these books inspire you to travel?

If so, which one? Have you read any other books that inspired you to get out on the road? We’d love to hear about them, please leave your comments below!

+ tiny island in St. Mary's lake in Glacier National Park

Top National Parks to Visit in 2018

If National Parks are on your bucket list for the upcoming year, then look no further than our list of the Top National Parks to Visit in 2018! We’ve compiled some of our favorites. How many of them have you been to and how many are new to you?!

Mount Rainier National Park

Located in Washington state, this park is a lush and vast wilderness. Though the park is open year-round, we recommend going in the summer. Try to time your visit when the wildflowers are in bloom (typically in July and August), even better!

A river through Mount Rainier National Park

Mount Rainier National Park

Glacier National Park

The photograph below of Saint Mary Lake in Glacier National Park is almost hard to believe but if it isn’t enough to convince you to start planning a trip, I don’t know what is. You can except gorgeous landscapes, awesome hiking and (if you want it) isolation in the wilderness.

tiny island in St. Mary's lake in Glacier National Park

Wild Goose Island Viewpoint along the Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park

Badlands National Park

At 244,000 acres of awesome, The Badlands are anything but bad! It’s also the closest thing I’ve ever felt to being on the moon. If you’re wondering why it made our list of the Top National Parks to Visit in 2018 it’s because it’s not only unique but also the perfect excuse to visit South Dakota!

people hiking in the Badlands

Badlands National Park in South Dakota

Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree is one of my favorites. Always has been and always will be. There’s just something about the desert. And for those of you who love photography, the light in this park at sunrise and sunset (not to mention the number of stars at night!) is so unique that it should definitely be on your bucket list.

the moon on rocks in Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park at first light.

Arches National Park

Did you know there are over 2,000 arches in this National Park? Aptly named, it’s one of the coolest places in the west. The park is busiest March through October but it’s open year-round. While you’re there be sure to hike up to Delicate Arch! (Take water with you.)

red rock landscape in Arches National Park

The famous Delicate Arch in Arches National Park

Shenandoah National Park

Chances are you’ve trekked to Shenandoah at one time or another if you’re living in the eastern part of the United States. My favorite hike is Old Rag and is a must-do if you’re into adventuring on foot. The fall is a great time to go because the leaves change and the colors become simply spectacular!

orange and yellow leaves in Shenandoah National Park

Fall colors in Shenandoah National Park

Rocky Mountain National Park

Look closely at this picture. Can you see Caroline running in the background? This was one of the first national parks we ever visited together and it’s one of our favorites for obvious reasons: altitude, incredible vistas, amazing trail running and it’s relatively easy to get to from the east coast.

Caroline Whatley running in Rocky Mountain National Park

Colorado Trail Running in Rocky Mountain National Park

What do you think about our Top National Parks to Visit list?

Are any of these places included in your plans for the upcoming year? Which ones? We’d love to hear about your adventures, let’s us know what’s on tap in the comments below!

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+ taking photographs in Tent Rocks near Santa Fe

Photography Gear: What Camera, Lenses and Accessories Do We Use?

We sometimes get questions about the kinds of photography equipment we use to create our images. We also briefly touched on this topic in the Adventure Photography class that we recently taught at the REI in Asheville. As a result we decided to create a post that we can point people to! The following is all about equipment in an effort to answer the following question. Photography gear: what camera, lenses and accessories do we use?

Camera Body

Brand: Fujifilm
Camera Body Type: Mirrorless Digital Cameras

What’s a mirrorless camera?

Basically mirrorless cameras (in very watered down terms) is lacking a mirror that most SLR cameras have in them. This makes mirrorless cameras smaller, lighter and quieter. Some people were hesitant about mirrorless cameras when they first came out and some people still don’t like them at all but I am head over heels with mine and would not trade it for another. It’s all just a matter of preference and what you’ll be using your camera for.

The setup we use the most often is the Fuji X-T2 with a 16mm lens.

Fuji X-T2

The X-T2…ahhh, how to explain this camera. I had my eye on the X-T2 for a while and after working as a second shooter for a wedding last November, went the very next day and traded all of my Nikon gear in for the X-T2. I purchased the body-only instead of the kit and bought the 16mm lens to go with it as well as the 35mm lens shortly thereafter.

woman taking a photo with the Fuji X-T2

Shooting photos with the X-T2 in North Carolina!

I love the quality of images that this camera offers. At 24 megapixels, there’s enough information in your photos to print them with confidnce AND print them large. It also offers 4K video for those of you out there that also want to be able to take moving pictures. This camera feels good in my fairly small hands and the controls are located easily enough so that you can manipulate them pretty quickly and with a little practice without having to take your eye away from the viewfinder.

Fuji XT-2 in Wichita Mountains, OK

Fuji X-T2 on location in the Wichita Mountains, OK

I also love that this camera has two memory card slots, is Wi-Fi capable, weather sealed and even shoots Ultra HD movies. My favorite feature of all though? The joystick that allows you to quickly choose your focal point. This is a huge upgrade from the X100S that forced you to use the arrows in order to control focal point, sometimes unfortunately causing you to miss shots because you’re fiddling with a small button. Not anymore. This joystick is intuitive and awesome whether your shooting portrait or landscape.

From an aesthetic point of view, I also just like the way the camera looks. People regularly ask if it’s an old film camera (it’s not) because of the design: square angles, rugged body and classic lines.

Most of all, this camera is just plain fun to shoot with and I already had confidence in the brand because of my experience with the Fuji X-100S.

Fuji X100S

woman taking a photograph in Beijing

The Fuji X-100S in Beijing!

I started traveling with this camera a couple of years ago. The first time was on a trip to the west coast. I had shot with a Nikon D7000 for a couple of years and had several different lenses for that camera body. Most of the time I used the 70-200 but I also had a fisheye and several other prime lenses. Still, for this particular trip I knew we’d be doing a lot of hiking and so I wanted something smaller and lighter. My friend, David King, a professional shooter and one of my photography mentors, suggested I look into the FujiX100S. He said I could expect a lightweight and compact design as well as something that offered high quality images. Was it too good to be true? He hadn’t steered me wrong thus far, so I went ahead and took his advice. And he was right. The camera performed better than my expectations.

Fuji x-100s

Fuji X100S with the conversion lens

The X100S has been on numerous trips with me and continues to be a camera that I value and hold onto, even though these days I’m shooting almost 100% of the time with my Fuji XT2. It makes a great backup camera and is the one I reach for on expeditions because of it’s compact size and low weight. For those of you looking for more of a wide angle lens, you can achieve that with the conversion lens pictured above.

And last but not least, the Fuji X-T1!

Fuji X-T1

Caroline shot with this camera for about a year before making the jump to the X-T2. It was her first camera and we think it’s a big step up from the X100S but also a step down from the X-T2. Though this camera jumps up in megapixels, it still forces you to focus with the small buttons like the X100S. This camera also doesn’t have quite as big a range of ISO, it only goes up to 25600 ISO (great compared to older cameras but no match for the X-T2).

Lenses

If you choose wisely, you may own certain lenses for life. Good glass really never goes out of style. And if you stick within a certain family, you may be able to use your lenses on several different bodies. For example, we can interchange our lenses on both the X-T2 and the X-T1.

Before investing, first determine whether or not you prefer prime lenses or zoom lenses. The debate about which photographers choose to use is a lengthy one but ultimately has to do with preference.

We shoot with prime lenses because we prefer to move our feet to get our shots, love the clarity and sharpness that prime lenses offer and also require really wide apertures that our primes give us. We have nothing against zoom lenses (like I said earlier, one of my favorite all time lenses, the 70-200 was a zoom lens) but for what we’re doing these days, we love primes.

Fujifilm XF 16mm f/1.4 R WR Lens

This is our go-to lens. We shoot almost all of our work with this lens except for weddings and engagements. It’s super-wide which allows us to share a lot of information about a place or space. It also does so without distortion. The lens gives you great bokeh (the blurry effect that people love!) and the aperture range goes from f/1.4 to f/16.

Fujifilm XF 56mm f/1.2 R Lens

The 56 mm lens is a beautiful lens and is perfect for portraits and weddings and engagements where space is critical to making your subject(s) comfortable. After all, who wants to feel like they’re having their pores being photographed? No one! If we want our subjects to relax into the moment we need to give them a little bit of space.

Fujifilm 35mm f/1.4 XF R Lens

This is also a great lens for portraits, weddings and engagements. It’s a lot of people’s go-to lenses. If you are just starting out and only want to invest in one all-around lens, we recommend this one.

Other gear we’re using:

BLACKRAPID Camera Straps

Wrist Strap Breathe – This is the strap I use most often when we’re walking around in a new city. It keeps the pressure and weight off of my neck. It also allows me to shoot something at a moment’s notice since my camera is literally at my hand. I also have the confidence in it to not worry about drops or accidents when I’m not shooting.

Curve Breathe – We also get a lot of heavy use out of this strap. It does a great job at reducing shooting fatigue by keeping the weight off your neck. It also distributes the camera lens and body weight evenly and is a great way to explore on long outings with your gear.

woman standing on a rock in Colorado with camera gear

The Fuji X-T2, 16mm lens and BLACKRAIPD strap in Colorado!

Manfrotto Tripod

I bought this tripod a few years back and it’s been super durable and withstood numerous adventures. It’s made of aluminum and though there are lighter ones on the market, this one isn’t too bad weight-wise coming in at 2.6 pounds. It also folds down pretty small and is quick to set-up. Not recommended with very large lenses or in high winds! You’ll definitely want something way more sturdy for that. It’s good though for most situations and with the gear we use and is how we’ve done most of our self-portraits and astro-photography!

Photography gear recap

One thing we can’t over emphasize is that though the kind and type and quality of gear you have will have an impact on your photos, it will never supersede the actual person creating the images.

There are so many features and functions and brands of cameras these days but we’ve just chosen to highlight what we use and love. It’s by no means the end all be all of photography gear.

We recommend shooting photos with anything and everything you an get your hands on. If you have a phone and it takes pictures, shoot with it!

iPhone photography in a car

Taking pictures with your phone can be a great way to get into photography.

If a relative no longer wants or uses a camera and wants to give it to you, try it out! You will learn something from every single piece of gear you use. The most important thing is to just get out there and shoot. It’s not the camera that makes the photographer.

What questions do you have? Please leave them in the comments and we’ll do our best to answer them. Are you happy with your camera gear? We’d love to hear about your experience even if it’s not a Fuji you’re working with.

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