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Top 10 List of Things To Do in Havana, Cuba!

1. Visit the capital building, El Capitolio, in central Havana !

You can’t miss the capital building during a trip to Havana. Most likely, you will pass the building several times on various cab rides. It is quite easy to work into your plans and is in a very pedestrian friendly area with plenty of shops, hotels, and restaurants nearby. We were immediately struck with its similarity to the US Capitol, but it is not exactly the same and has more color and character. It is, however, very similar. As you can see above, the capital is under construction and has been since 2013. The building’s restoration is a slow process to be used for Cuba’s National Assembly.

You might find it hard to get tickets at the last minute during a peak travel season, so you can plan ahead and get tickets for the tour a day or so in advance. We were lucky and found a guided tour with two spots. Tickets were about $4 per person with the guided tour. We highly recommend using the guide, which was both in Spanish and English. We learned that women make up nearly half the National Assembly! There were lots of questions being asked and the guide was able to answer each one. We were very pleased with the quality of the experience and the break from the heat!

2. Almacenas San Jose Artisans’ Market is a essentially a flea market on the water, a great stop!

If you are looking for souvenirs, this is the perfect one-stop shop. We aren’t really into buying the typical tourist items when we travel, but this place was more than just a tourist trap. It was very pedestrian friendly, filled with local artists, had great food, and a perfect location for a stop. You can find anything from cheap souvenirs and beautiful, original art.

There is something for everyone at Almacenes San Jose Artisans’ Market. We were out of cash by the time that we made it over there, so we weren’t really looking to bring home a large piece. Instead, we opted for some photographs which we will frame back home as a memento of our trip! This way, we travel lighter, save money, but still supported the local art scene.

3. Be sure to see Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes de La Habana, the national art museum!

Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes de La Habana, Museum site photo

The museum is easily located and very near the Plaza de la Revolucion. You can easily see both in the same day. Consisting of two buildings, one dedicated to Cuban artists and one to universal art, you will see a huge diverse selection of pieces. The substantial scope of local art was incredible considering the size of Cuba. This museum was easily our favorite in Havana.

The interactive exhibit above was one of several experiences that really made the museum come to life. There were no instructions, and you simply encountered the experience on your own. The headphones shared various pieces of music which correlated to performing artists on video. Below are a few of our favorite pieces from the afternoon!

The entry fee is low, even the tourist rate is lower than we expected at around $5 per person. You can also get a guide in either Spanish or various other languages for an additional $2-$3 at certain times. We suggest at least two hours as it is a substantial museum with several interactive experiences.

4. Venture to Vinales!

We had an amazing experience with a day trip booked through Air BNB. A taxi picked us up at our casa particular early in the morning and we headed on the long but nice drive to Vinales. (Our taxi was a large vehicle, but at six feet tall Brian absolutely did not fit in the back seat. It would have been fine for a short trip to city center, but to drive a longer distance it was very uncomfortable and he eventually moved up front. If you are tall, be sure to get a larger taxi or sit in the front!) Vinales is a tiny village, but you can chose to spend the night out there as well. It is very quaint. We saw a tabacco plantation, took a horse ride in the mountains, saw a massive painting, and went a boat ride through a river cave. The food and drinks every where were very, very tasty and fresh. They crushed the sugar cane right in front of us to make the drinks.

Our entire trip included absolutely everything for about $85 per person. We felt this was a great bargain and enjoyed that we didn’t have to do any planning at all. We also paid before leaving the US, so we didn’t have to spend much cash at all on this day. It was a great way to pay for something ahead of time that didn’t require using our little supply of cash once we were there. Through Air BNB’s site, you can send questions back and forth with information for pick up, etc. However, because cell service is very, very minimal, this could have posed issues. Luckily, we found a cafe with free Internet where we were able to confirm our details the day before. We did hear about other groups who weren’t so lucky.

5. Cannon ceremony at Castillo de San Carlos de la Cabana was a brilliant surprise!

After we arrived in Havana, we made a relaxing plan for our first night. The owner of our house for the week highly suggested dinner in the city and then seeing the ceremonial firing of the cannons. You will need to take a cab to the other side of the bay, which is about $10 for the short ride. Our driver was willing to meet us again afterwards, so we didn’t have to look for another cab. We ended up splitting the ride back with some Europeans to save money, which worked out well! You can pay a small fee to tour the fort, which was, well, a fort and interesting but not too much to see. There were lots of vendors everywhere. Then, we headed to see the ceremony. Everyone was crowding around the cannons quite tightly, and ended up on the side of the fort quite close to the edge, and there was no wall. If we had gotten there earlier, we definitely would have found a different vantage point. However, we did get to see everything easily. A group of men in the military dress in period costume and sing about the tradition. They have various military exercises and march during the singing. Then, promptly at 9pm, they light a cannon and shoot it into the bay every night like clockwork.

The ceremony is historic and is a recreation of a tradition where a cannon was fired to let the city know the gates would be closing, and the city would be safe from pirates for the night. It is a colonial ceremony and one of the oldest traditions in Cuba. We were surrounded both by tourists and Cubanos eager to watch. The energy was exciting and made a great first night in Havana! You simply cannot miss El Canonazo de las Nueve!

6. Plaza de la Revolucion and El Museo de la Revolucion was a unique experience as an American!

We weren’t really sure what to expect, but it is hardly a trip to Cuba without visiting this museum. Housed in the palace of the former president, the museum wasted no time in proudly sharing the history of the Cuban revolution, interference of foreign powers, and reverence for its leaders from the past and present. There is a large indoor portion of the museum which is dedicated to the history of Cuba including pre-Columbian culture, through the fight against Batista, to society today. Then, another portion of the museum, pictured below, is an outdoor area with planes, tanks, boats, etc used in the revolution.

In the center is the small boat which brought 80 revolutionaries, including Che Guevara and Fidel Castro, from Mexico to Cuba. The planes and tanks were used in various important moments in military history of Cuba and each had explanations and information about the history of the piece.

The museum costs about $4, and we recommend at least one hour but we took two! There was so much to see and read, and it was quite an education to hear another narrative about your own country, which we, of course, expected. Brian has experienced living in communist countries, but this was a first for Candace. You simply can’t go to Cuba, without an experience like this one! The museum is part of the Plaza de la Revolucion. The square is commanded by the massive memorial tower to Jose Marti, standing over 350 feet tall, which is in front of the government buildings.

The square stretches out to the sea and the Malecon, making it a great part of your day on this side of Havana. You can easily walk to the sea and to the National Fine Art Museum, Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes.

7. Callejon de Hamel offers the most colorful moment in Havana!

Everywhere you look around this little street is packed with vibrant art and the joyful people of Cuba! It is really just a narrow alley but simply packed with the beautiful taste of local culture. It is an Afro-Cuban style from artist Salvador Escalona.

The alley is a small and beautiful little moment in Havana that you don’t want to miss. Our guide also said that this is a hub for practicing Santeria, a widely practiced religion in Cuba. Plan for about thirty minutes to see the alley, and there is no cost associated with it. It is located between Calles Espada and Aramburu.

8. Explore the local neighborhoods on a walking or bike tour!

Whenever you find yourself in a new city, it can be very helpful to get an overview on a bus tour or with a local guide. Unlike many other major world cities, there was no clear system for easy public access to a typical tour of this type. We booked the tour through Air BNB before our departure from the US, which was also great because we could pay in advance and save the all important cash while in the country. We arrived in a neighborhood early and selected among quality bikes. Brian was a bit bored with the 4-5 hour tour and was happy to escape with the guide toward the end and race down hills with technical turns. Candace was more interested in a leisurely tour and stayed with the group. We were able to see the University of Havana, a small art district Callejon de Hamel (described previously), Plaza de la Revolucion, some local parks, and get a general idea of the layout of the city and some places where we wanted to return later. While it was a great exposure to the city on our first full day in Havana, we would have chosen a slightly shorter tour if we returned for this particular excursion.

9. Walk and dine down Calle Obispo or O’Reilly!

The colors, the people, the vitality of Havana is intense down Obispo or O’Reilly streets. There are several ways to get there, but it is anchored by El Floridita, the famous bar (which is overrun by tourists like no other place we saw), and the second location of the National Art Museum. So, you can take a taxi to these spots and just start walking. The tourists shops are tucked in among local stores and markets which makes the experience unique to other shopping districts in major cities as locals are completely around you everywhere you go. This a great place for people watching, a good meal, some live music, and Internet!

While we love to unplug during travel, it is helpful to check on the family after a few days and confirm your bookings for various excursions. We found a cafe with free Internet, a terrace, and a great lunch offering. It was the perfect reprieve from the heat, and we were glad for the opportunity to have a mojito and message the family back home. There were several of these cafes but they aren’t necessarily widely advertised, so just ask around and read the signage. Another key thing to look for is shade! Just on the other side of the street, people looked miserable on the balcony with the sun glaring down on them, but we were quite comfortable in the shade.

10. Meet the locals!

When in Havana, the people will absolutely be a highlight of your trip. Everywhere we went, the locals were incredibly kind and welcoming. Our tour guides were all studying or teaching at the university as biologists or engineers. In fact, just about everyone we met in the tourism industry was a doctor, lawyer, or chemist and had multiple advanced degrees. They told us that it was a quite hard to make money in Havana, and this was their way to get ahead. Most worked 7 days per week. One of our guides described his goal of getting hot water in his house. This made it very important to tip. Cash is a great way to give these hard-working people your gratitude for sharing their beautiful city. While you won’t meet very many people in the streets who speak English, any guide will have excellent skills. Candace’s Spanish speaking skills were very helpful in navigating the city, negotiating cab fare, and understanding prices and directions, but we had no issues communicating with everyone in the tourism industry. Some were eager to question American politics and better understand the American mentality toward Cuban, but most were just happy to share their country and their hearts with us. Everyone went above and beyond to make sure we felt comfortable, knew where to go, and left wanting to come back. We are so eager to return with our boys one day soon!

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10 tips for visiting Havana, Cuba, from toilets to taxis!

1. The city is a maze, and there are no standard addresses!

Throughout Havana, there are five majors neighborhoods Centra Habana, Habana del Este, La Habana Vieja, Miramar, and Vedado. Although the city is easy to walk around and not very big, you can easily get lost if you are expecting to see clear addresses. Here is a picture of the general area of our casa particular where we stayed (more on that later!).

There are essentially no house numbers, so every address is a combination of streets and side streets. You can see in the image above that the address is made up of two streets and no clear numbers. Also, cell service is not reliable at all, so your driver will likely roll down a window and ask people on the street for advice if he or she doesn’t know the area.

2. Toilets (well, maybe)

Occasionally, you will get a western toilet at a restaurant or museum in the city, but be prepared for anything! Sometimes, it is a more of a hole in the ground than a toilet, and you will often need to bring your own toilet paper.

There may also be someone standing outside the bathroom. This means you need to pay to use the toilet. Some change is usually enough, but this is considered a tip for the person and often it means they will give you some toilet paper. The very most important thing – do NOT flush the toilet paper EVER. This is common in many countries, and a vital rule in Cuba. At first, Candace was worried it would be a huge odor issue, but in the nicer areas and certainly in hotels, this is not the case. However, yes, it can be very smelly, and some parts of town have a poo smell in the air. Sorry, no other way to describe it.

3. Casa particular over a hotel any day!

We read a lot about what to expect and where to stay before we headed to Havana, and we opted for an Air BNB spot, La Llave del Golfo for less than $50 per night! Hotels are certainly much more expensive, and you get a very sanitized experience. Whereas, in a casa particular, you are staying among the people of Havana in a local house. It is basically a bed and breakfast. We wouldn’t have it any other way. We also LOVED having a private pool to cool off in the evening. It is very, very hot in Cuba in the spring, summer, and fall, with a small reprieve for winter. It was amazing to come back and dip in the pool. At this house, we were also able to order dinner and eat a homemade Cuban meal for a great price every night. The owner of the home took care of everything for us and gave us great advice all the time. We simply adored the home. It was historic, clean, massive, safe, and located just outside the city. While cab fare each day was a lot more expensive than we expected (easily $30 per day), we still would chose this spot again. When looking to save money, you should consider cab fare as part of your expenses if you want to stay outside the city. While the nightly rate will be less, you will spend the money every day getting into Havana anyway. We loved having a cheap beer and a mojito cold and waiting for us as soon as we walked in the door each night. The stay also included a fresh, hot breakfast every morning whenever we wanted it. One morning, we had to leave very early, so a neighbor came over to put on the coffee for us. They have a great system, and we felt very lucky to have found this casa particular La Llave del Golfo.

4. Taxis can be tricky.

Yes, you can pay for a taxi in one of these vintage cars that is in pristine condition. They will drive you anywhere you want to go, but you will pay a lot! However, basically every taxi is a vintage car, so you will ride in one that is in good condition for a much more reasonable fare. A 15-20 minute drive was around $10. You can also get a Coco Taxi, which looks like a coconut (pictured below).

These are a little cheaper and get around quite easily, but it is also just fun to have a ride in a coconut shaped taxi. Unfortunately, we did have one taxi driver try to take advantage of us and charge $50 for a trip where he intentionally took us to the wrong museum. We simply refused to pay. We paid him a fair rate, and then we walked into the museum. We weren’t sure if there would be any issues with this, but he simply drove away. That is absolutely the only situation we observed or experienced where we felt unsafe or cheated. You can ask your hotel or casa particular for advice about how much to pay. They will also book your taxi for you if that makes you more comfortable.

5. There is a tourist rate at most places.

In order to support the locals, there is a tourist rate at most museums and important buildings. It is drastically more than the local rate; however, we were happy to pay. Most locals have very, very little income on a monthly basis, so these important parts of their culture would not be available to them without this cheaper rate. In general, the rates were what you might expect for a quality art museum in any major city. We paid around $7-$10 entry for most of the places we saw. Stay tuned to hear more about each stop!

6. Americans can NOT get cash. Bring lots of cash!

Airport Currency Exchange, Havana

Once you land in Havana, you can go to the airport to exchange your currency. We typically take about $100 per day when we travel abroad, but then we can typically supplement with Visa for larger purchases or expensive meals. However, this will NOT be an option for Americans in Cuba. Seriously, it is not possible. We unwisely assumed that it might be difficult but not impossible. Nope, it is impossible to use American credit cards or debit cards literally anywhere. You must bring cash. We don’t buy tourist items, and we don’t eat at fancy restaurants more than once on a trip. We needed more like $150-$200 per day to cover entry into museum, cab fare, lunch or dinner, drinks, small items, and tips. Cab fare will eat up your cash fast, so you should definitely plan for that as well. If you are not American, then you will be able to use a bank kiosk in town to get cash from your bank. Also, some places will take your credit card. The exchange rate for the dollar is quite poor as they basically charge an extra 20% fee for American currency. It is much better to exchange your dollars for euros and then carry euros to the airport where you can get local currency. We know this is an extra step, but it will save you a huge amount of money in the long run, especially if your bank stateside will do the currency exchange for free.

7. Stray cats and dogs are everywhere.

The dogs and cats are certainly all over Havana, but they aren’t a nuisance. They are polite and seem to understand an unwritten rule that they can not beg for food or jump on you. They were happy to get a little bit of sandwich, and they locals also look out for them in the streets. We did donate a bit of cash to a local effort to care for the strays. Consider sharing your leftovers with the local creatures!

8. Food prices vary greatly.

Check out this local menu! You won’t find prices this cheap in the center of Havana, but this was just outside the city center. CUC is the column you will use as it is the tourist currency. One CUC is more or less $1, so the prices are much better than we expected for food. Of course, you can also go to a more upscale rooftop restaurant in downtown Havana (which we highly recommend) and pay a little more for a good dinner and drinks.

We really enjoyed the shade from the other buildings, and the great mix of locals and tourists from all over the world in this little restaurant recommended by the owner of our casa particular. We tried several local drinks, and the had the waiter bring whatever he recommended. It was about $50 for a few courses and drinks.

9. Don’t be afraid to try new foods!

We had tons of fresh seafood, which was always well prepared and often had citrus flavors and herbs. We had Cuba libre (Coke, rum, and lime), mojitos, (rum, sugar, lime, soda water, and mint), and local beers each day, and we never had a bad drink. Ask for recommendations and try daily specials. Most places have a small menu where they rotate the offering based on what is available and fresh in the market that day. You can find familiar foods like a sandwich, but we enjoyed just about everything we tried. Don’t expect food drenched in sauces or constantly fried, because you won’t find much of that in Cuba. The foods are freshly made, simple, and delicious.

10. Don’t miss out on a Cuban cigar!

Brian got a lesson on how to smoke a cigar like a Cuban! They were very impressed with his ability to turn the cigar and keep a long ash, which is apparently the sign of an experienced smoker. We also learned that some Cubans like to dip their cigars in a bit of local honey. We have brought this tradition back home with us! At the time of our travel, you could bring back 50 cigars per person. Check the rules to see what the rules are when you plan to head out to Cuba. We paid $4 per cigar at the plantation, but prices were much higher in the city. And, many sellers are tricking tourists with fake cigars. Be sure to study up a bit if you aren’t sure how to spot the fakes. They told us to feel the texture for a soft exterior and press down to ensure the cigar gives a bit and does not have a crunching sound, a key sign of a fake. Back at our casa particular, the owner said he could get us a cheaper rate directly from a friend, but we were short on cash by the end of our trip and weren’t able to buy the maximum.

Check us out on social media! Send us your questions about Cuba!

5 things we learned booking our first long term stay!

With the massive Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo coming up, we decided to take the opportunity to book a place near downtown Houston – for a month! Brian works a lot at the rodeo, and Candace and the boys love to head in for the day to experience the excitement and energy of the space. For those who don’t know, millions of people attend the rodeo. It is HUGE in Texas. Also, there is so much to see and do in Houston! We are planning a ton of activities around town, so stay tuned for updates about our travels. We learned some seriously hard lessons in the booking process!

#1 Read the fine print.

We did some quick research on RV parks in the region, and as you can imagine, there are not a ton of choices near the city center. We did some quick comparisons, and we decided to hold a lot at the one nearest to the rodeo. It wasn’t too expensive, but as soon as they sent over the booking information, we knew it wasn’t going to work! With no amenities other than being close in proximity, we were going to be charged drastically more because it was a special event date range. So, we called back and said “never mind,” and then they insisted that we pay $100 cancellation fee even though it clearly states that the fee is $10. Well, apparently, it is $100 during special events. Key word here: during. The even is a month away!? We were NOT happy. We had spent hours writing emails, calling the credit card company, and trying to speak to the owner. We aren’t posting the name of the park because they did eventually make it right. Needless to say, ask a million questions before booking or even holding a spot.

#2 Reputable chains often also come with professionalism and safety.

After the first debacle, we widened our search and found something really nice only four miles away! They are part of a reputable chain, and we have stayed in their parks before and loved it. They were clean, well-maintained, have laundry, pool, etc. Very, very nice place and CHEAPER than the previously mentioned park. We highly recommend Quality RV Resorts, and they have many locations around Houston.

Here is their main website:

http://www.qualityrvresorts.com

They have just about everything you would want during a long stay. We can expect our unit to be safe and the area to be well-maintained in this highly populated major city location. Quite literally, millions of people will be around the area, so going with a reputable location is worth it.

#3 Week vs Month – we want more amenities!

We don’t care about a ton of amenities at our usual stops as we see ourselves more interested in the outdoors and having an adventure in a park; however, this is a month we are talking about, and Brian will be living there. We decided that these extra amenities would be desirable. We are happier in a state park and will even boondock in parking lot on a long trip. We aren’t bothered by it at all. A month stay is different. Also, Brian will be commuting for work, so we are talking typical laundry and high volume cooking for the family on a full-time basis. We aren’t much for eating out regularly anyway while traveling, but this will be especially true for the month!

This building has laundry services, a gym, very nice showers, and other basic supports where you can receive mail, etc. You can also utilize the grill and outdoor spaces. (They called it a BBQ pit. This is NOT a BBQ pit. This is a grill. Ask a Texan.) This will be perfect for our stay.

Of course, the boys are intensely happy that there is a pool. Someone, PLEASE, explain to the children that it is too cold to swim in a pool during rodeo season. Yes, Houston gets cold. Wind chill was 26F this week. We don’t expect it to be that cold, but you can be sure that the adults will not be testing the pool! Good thing they have a hot tub!

The small lake is catch and release, so Candace will certainly be doing some fishing!

#4 Don’t always trust the quick Google maps search.

This stay has a very high value on location. It is really not worth doing unless we can be near the rodeo. Our first quick Google search had the RV park listed with only one star and showed a weird picture, so we looked more closely at a different location. After the booking debacle, we decided to go back and read more about Lake View RV Resort. Turns out, that quick Google search gave us the right location, but the pictures were not correct at all. We are so glad that we took the time to dig deeper and confirm the details! It is a gorgeous spot!

#5 Even if the website says booked for your dates, you should call!

We first tried to get our dates booked through the website, and there were no vacancies. We decided to call anyway, and we are so glad that we did! They were great on the phone, and they shared lots of good information. Apparently, RV resorts have long-term stays and nightly rates at the same locations. The booking systems are made for the nightly stay people, so also call to see if you can get a spot even when the website says it is full. Again, the rodeo is less than a month away, so we were overjoyed to get a spot! It is an extraordinarily busy season!

We will follow-up with more updates as we get closer! Batch cooking will be up next. And, of course, we needed more gadgets…

Do you have any more tips for our first long-term stay?

4 tips to stay fit on the road!

Look, we all know how impossible it can be to keep your fitness goals while traveling. You can’t have this vague sense that you are going to train and just sort of look for moments to get it done. It is not going to happen like that. However, if you plan ahead, it will make a huge difference. Here are some tips and tricks from Candace!

#1 Find moments to get in something, even something small

Long road trips can be really hard on your legs and back, so you need to be proactive to prevent issues. I learned a runner’s lunge matrix a long time ago, and so these exercises are something I do all the time. It only takes a few minutes, and anyone can do it! In fact, I have the whole family doing these exercises every few hours as we stop. Don’t just roll out of the car and into a restaurant during stops. Stretch, warm your legs, get moving, even if it is just five minutes. If you do this little workout, two or three times on those long road days, then you are really getting in some training and also keeping your body feeling fresh as you cover the miles. Here is the video I used to learn the lunge matrix!

#2 Plan Ahead

Decide exactly what you are going to accomplish (be reasonable!). If I know that I am going to run, then I call the state/national park in advance and ask about the trails near where we are staying. I learned this the hard way… ohhhhh, 1173 feet of elevation in 3 miles… ok, so not running that one. Sorry, I am a flat lands girl. That would be a gorgeous hike, not a run. HA! Also, you have to consider safety. You are in a new place. You don’t know the terrain. You don’t know the wildlife. You don’t know the trail. I don’t recommend just going for it. Some people might, but I wouldn’t! I find a one mile trail that I feel confident about, and then I loop it for as long as I need. When I first discovered my one mile loop trick, it made the commitment so much easier. Finding a perfect 5 miles is going to be really challenging. Don’t spend a ton of time trying to find something like that. One mile loop repeats FTW! I won’t run more than a few miles while traveling because for me it is about maintenance on the road – not serious training. Also, I am willing to shift from a run to a family hike here and there. After all, it is vacation!

#3 Pack the right gear

Part of planning is about packing the right gear! If you bring your favorite running kit, then you are more likely to get it done, even if it is laps around the parking lot – yep, I have done it. These are a few of my favorite running items that I must have on the road!

I just bought these ear pods! No, they are not the Apple ones, too $$. I bought the cheap ones, and I am perfectly happy to report that they are awesome! No complaints here.

Then, I am currently using this very easy and beginner friendly coach on Audible! I had never even considered using an audiobook for running, but it has been amazing. I simply have not missed even one run. Yes, it is definitely more for beginners, but I am not worried. That is fine for me right now. The coach is awesome, and I love hearing her little pieces of advice along the way. There is music in the background that is not distracting, and each run has intervals, tempo, long run or recovery workouts. I LOVE it. It is called Half Marathon Training by Katie Barrett.

#4 Set reasonable expectations

If you are in the height of marathon, triathlon, etc. training, your trip is going to have to at least somewhat revolve around getting in the mileage or the hours you need. You will have to really plan in order to get it done. Everyone on the trip has to be on board with this commitment and willing to support it, or you might actually ruin the vacation! It can be done, but it must be with dedicated planning. I have done this before, but I didn’t love it. So, now, I plan my races and trips separately. I can certainly be in a lower training phase or maintenance phase and travel with no issues at all. But, no, I am not running 18 miles on vacation. I highly value the feeling that it is ok to miss an occasional session when on the road. I recently did a December Running Streak with my local running club. We committed to running at least one mile per day for the month of December. It was hard to keep this up while driving from Texas to NYC, but we got it down. From Target parking lots to laps around an RV park, we made it happen. The kids joined me occasionally. It worked because everyone knew about my commitment before we ever left home. They were cheering me on, and we finished that last mile together with a long walk in Central Park!

Can you guess how many states we have seen this year?!

It has been a whirlwind adventure of travel for us this year. We purchased our first RV in May, and we have already been to see so many incredible places. Before you read any further, put your guess in the comments!

This weekend, we decided to install our new map of the states on the door of Millie! Each person got to go one at a time choosing their favorite states to add onto the door. We did technically drive through Georgia for a few minutes, but we decided that didn’t count.

Candace found this great map on Amazon. Here is a link if you are interested.

RV State Travel Map – United States Camper Map RV Decals for Window, Door, or Wall ~ Includes 50 State Decal Stickers with Scenic Illustrations See Many Places

Be sure to really clean the surface you have chosen for the map. Then, installation can be a little tricky, so line up the edges very carefully before you place each state.

We made a line with painters tape and a level to be sure the map would be level once we stuck it on the door.

Travis’ first pick was Arizona because he loved Saguaro National Park so much! Brian went for California, and Clay loved debating between Arkansas and Tennessee for his favorite. Candace chose New York not because it was her favorite but because it was the most unique out of all the adventures for the year.P

Our travel trailer does not have a lot of flat surfaces on the outside, so the door was an easy choice for us. Traveling so many miles across the United States this year we got to see all kinds of different ways people display their adventures.

What is your guess? We certainly went from sea to shining sea and Deep South nearly to the northern border!

Drum roll please… 16!

Well, how did you do?! Any winners?

Do you know this travel hack?

We get asked a lot how we come up with our action packed trip itineraries with our family. Good planning in advance and flexibility on the road are key. Once we set our key destinations, we really work backwards from there to hit some great spots. However, once the plans are made, we don’t stress if things don’t work out. When you get the flu while in NYC, guess what, you might lose a day of sight seeing. When your truck breaks down dry camping in Big Bend, guess what, you might miss out on that river float. However, there is no reason to let that ruin your adventure! We are planning a family trip for the summer, so we thought this was a great opportunity to share our process!

Step 1 – Chose that big destination!

Once you know where your big moment is going to be, that makes a huge difference. Currently, we are LOVING the national parks. Grand Canyon is on every travelers bucket list, and only Brian has been there. It is time for us all to see it. We have also learned that we ready to slow down the pace and spend more time at top destinations. So, we are starting with two pieces of information: Grand Canyon and more time in top spots.

Step 2 – Check the route for other adventures!

On the way from Houston to Grand Canyon, there are only about 4,209 amazing things to see! Well, we may be a exaggerating a little, but there are certainly lots of great options.

One really cool idea is to take two different routes: one on the way there, and a different one on the way back. The slowest route, which is about an hour longer, takes you right by two other national parks – Carlsbad Caverns and Guadalupe Mountains. It also takes us near two amazing state parks for swimming – Balmorhea, which we have never done, and Bottomless Lakes, which we absolutely love. So, we know that is route is definitely happening either on the way there or the way back!

The fastest route takes us right by Dallas, where Clay’s favorite restaurant, Eatzi’s will certainly force a stop for us. Then, it passes near the US’s second largest canyon in northern Texas at Palo Duro Canyon State Park! It goes so well with a Grand Canyon trip that we will definitely hit this spot.

Ultimately, we make the trip about more than one destination. It is not two days of non-stop driving to hit one big destination. We make lots of stops to see great things. Then, we find those places where we will return again and again!

Step #3 – Eat at great restaurants!

Even though we are traveling with the travel trailer, we find a way to eat at great restaurants on the way. Fast food is guaranteed to leave you feeling sluggish, which is the last thing you need on a long drive! But, how do we find good places and figure out parking?! First, check Trip Advisor! Pick your city, click restaurants, and sort by a metric that is important to you! We like to sort by local cuisine.

Then, you can click the map feature to see which restaurants are on your intended route. We never go more than a few miles off the route.

How do we do this while pulling a travel trailer? Here is your hack!! On your map, you can click the little “i” and switch to satellite view! This is a game changer. You can make sure that their parking lot will work for your rig! This has been amazing for us!

What are your travel hacks?!

4 Best Drinks in Havana

4. Bloody Mary’s, Cuban Style

It may seem surprising, but we loved having these flavorful Bloody Mary’s full of herbs and veggies. The basil was a different variety than we have in the US. It tasted like a cross between basil and celery. Completely new flavor, but it went so well with the Bloody Mary!

3. Mojitos

Just about everywhere we went, Candace had a mojito! You won’t find any premixed drinks here. Every single one, from nice restaurants to beach side stands, served fresh, crisp mojitos.

The cold refreshing mint provided the perfect break from the heat!

2. Cuba Libre

It may sound like a strange combination, but this stellar local drink did not disappoint!

Ice cold rum, Coke, and lime kept us going through the soaring temps in downtown Havana!

1. Cristal, local beer

You must try the local beer Cristal! It’s cheap and refreshing! You won’t find any American imports, but you can also get a Heineken most places; however, we always drink the local favorites!

5 RV Maintenance Tips

After a huge season of traveling across the country, it is time to spend a couple of days taking care of basic maintenance on our 32 foot travel trailer named Millie! This year, we have traveled from coast to coast and as far as south as Big Bend to New York City in the north. We have put a lot of miles on our rig. We had temperatures from well below freezing in the Appalachian mountains to 117 in the desert.

#5 Deep Clean

We encountered everything from sand to snow this year, so absolutely every corner needed to be swept and scrubbed. Luckily, it is a relatively small space. If you plan well, you really can clean every corner in a reasonable amount of time. Our first tip is to get everything off the floor.

Candace loves the smell of this Mrs. Meyers cleaning product in the geranium scent. Also, it’s really important to use natural products. These small spaces will make you feel soaked in chemicals if you use harsh products. We scrub every nook and cranny, which actually only took about one hour. Remember, it is not like cleaning your house. It is a small space. Next, we have tried every vacuum. Every vacuum. We will NEVER buy anything but Dyson. We have one in the kitchen at home, one at our land in the country, and one in the travel trailer. They are expensive, but they last for years!

This one is on sale! It is cordless and holds a charge for a long time. Perfect for those weekend trips or even longer stays!

Dyson V7 Trigger Cord-Free Handheld Vacuum Cleaner

It is worth every penny. Their customer service is simply the best, and the product just works for years and years. Our oldest Dyson vacuum is 11 years old, and still works and looks like new. In fact, this weekend, the battery died on the smaller one in the kitchen, and we called Dyson. They are having a new battery overnight shipped to us for free. Can’t get better than that.

#4 Rotate your tires

Proper tire inflation, good general care, and regular rotation will allow to prolong the life of your tires for years. Every 6,000-8,000 miles you should rotate those tires. This is something you can do yourself if you know how, but of course you can have someone do it. The rear axle tires will wear more easily, so rotate is key to good tires. Move the back forward and criss-cross them.

Be sure to keep your tires properly inflated. Candace is an avid cyclist and will tell you the immense difference it makes to keep your tires inflated properly. Check your tires often.

#3 Repaint any rusted metal

There are several areas on your rig that may be prone to rusting, especially after a season out in the elements. We recommend that you prime and re-paint those each year and do touch ups as needed. It might sound like a big task, but it really doesn’t take much time. Brian repainted our sway system quickly and easily this weekend in about an hour, which included lots of sitting in the sun and beer drinking, so let’s say 30 minutes is plenty of time! Here is the before shot of the bars in the sway system. First, you need to grind off and wire brush all rusted areas. Then, primer and paint!

Just spray on the primer. Let it dry. Then, spray on the final coat.

Quick and easy, but it makes a huge difference on the life of this expensive equipment!

#2 Reseal your seams

Due to weathering and just wear over time, you may find gaps or nearly gaps in your rig. You can easily seal these to prolong usage. If you don’t store your RV in some pristine, climate-controlled place, then you are like most RVers! This means, you should invest a weekend every year in some maintenance.

We like this product from Amazon, and it is on sale! Really cheap but huge improvement to the longevity of your RV investment!

Flex Seal Spray Rubber Sealant Coating

We recommend getting up on your roof – SAFELY – and checking out any gaps around your AC unit, vents, panels, around all slides, etc. The directions for usage are very straightforward and easy to follow.

#1 Clean the outside of your RV

Luckily, we have a power washer, so this task is made quite quick and easy! You can use a variety of products, and it is important to consider the usage, weather, and level of dirtiness of your RV!

We opted for this cleaner from Amazon. After reviewing our travels this year, and let’s be real, the ease of using Amazon, we chose this product, and it worked great!

However, we did learn that you need to go back over your windows with glass cleaner as it will streak. (Also, it is good to note that your tires need different care than your rig. Don’t just spray them down with the same chemicals.) Dare we say, this was actually fun! After about 30 minutes of power washing and cleaning, Millie Falcon was already looking bright sun-shiny, ready for another few thousand miles!

4 Road Trip Survival Tips!

Long road trips can really wear out anyone! After driving coast to coast and North to South across the US in just six months, we are the experts at passing the hours joyfully and skipping the haggard days of hauling. Here are four go-to tricks we use on EVERY road trip.

4. Eat fresh, real foods

It might be very tempting to constantly eat fast food when on a long road trip. However, we guarantee that this will make you feel sluggish and tired on any long road trip. Finding a restaurant for a nice meal or quickly preparing something will make a huge difference in the long run. Honestly, our stops at a fast food style restaurant end up being nearly the same amount of time for a nice meal. And, we always walk away feeling so much better.

This is some frozen chicken soup that we prepare in advance. Whenever we make a large pot for dinner, a family size serving goes in a container in the freezer for our next road trip. You can take this out in the morning, and it will be mostly thawed by lunchtime. Then all you have to do is heat it up for a meal. We have used a microwave at a gas station, but it is obviously more ideal if you can heat it yourself! Of course, we are traveling with our RV, so Candace just heats it up on the stove top without opening the slide. As you can imagine, this also saves major dollars. Food costs can really add up when traveling! Eating at a restaurant is also better to decompress a bit. It’s not too rushed, and everyone gets food they want. Fast food will leave you sluggish and feeling hurried. You’re on vacation, and the drive is part of that!

3. Stretch your legs – not just metaphorically!

You might feel a little silly at first, but we do some leg exercises and stretches really quickly every time we stop! When you travel for long periods, you can really irritate your legs and back especially. We promise this will have you feeling much better as the hours go by. We do a running matrix of lunges, which sounds technical but is extremely easy! This one below is for runners, but you get the idea. It is really just four different leg exercises. It is good for basic conditioning for runners, but it really gets you moving and stretching after a time in the car. Yes, we literally do this in parking lots. I would definitely recommend shortening it if you aren’t accustomed to the exercises. You don’t want to be sore on your road trip!

2. Count away the hours with a game!

We were worried that our boys would lose their Christmas spirit with a long car ride, so Candace decided to make a bit of a game on Christmas morning in the truck. We all opened one present every hour! Everyone really looked forward to ticking away the hours with this game. Some of the gifts were small and meant specifically for the long ride, but others were boots, wool socks, and other travel items for our time in NYC. One popular item was a children’s cookbook. The boys picked recipes, made groceries, and planned to make the items once returning home. This one easily took up the whole hour until the next gift was going to be opened. This gave us the idea to keep the tradition going in the future! We plan to make small little gifts and fun items for the long haul every time. Even the adults will get in on the fun!

1. Listen to an audio book!

Even those who don’t love reading as much as Clay and Candace, an audiobook will really pass the time! We did two great ones on our NYC trip for New Years! After looking into some options, we decided on the free trial that Audible offers. It is an Amazon company, so it is easy to get it set up, and, hey, it is free for a month!

First, it was Call of the Wild by Jack London. Everyone loved this short three hour book. Candace knew everyone would like it, and the film is coming out. It is about a strong and beautiful family dog that is stolen and sold to become a sled dog. He searches for a way to survive his new life. A perfect choice!

Second, we did Deep, Deep Snow! We decided to go for something longer this time, and this 14 hour thriller was just the thing to tick away the hours. It is about a young woman trying to solve the disappearance of a local boy who has gone missing without a trace. The mystery affects the entire town.

If the family doesn’t all want to do the same book, you can try these ear buds on sale on Amazon! They are a similar style as the Apple model, and Candace has had no issues with them! She also uses them for running. After a couple of hours, your ears generally need a break, but they work well and are a great price.

I think our longest day this trip was 800 miles on New Year’s Day through the mountains, and we pretty tired that night! What is your advice for surviving those long road days?

Texas, we are losing a piece of history! Don’t miss out!

Just about everyone in this region of Texas has visited this legend! However, it won’t be around for long. We made sure to get in one last visit as the fate of this ship is uncertain.

Battleship Texas

When we visited, park officials stated that it has not been determined where Battleship Texas will go after its repairs. They said that there have been hints that it will go further south. “I look forward to the next chapter that the Battleship will experience after these much-needed repairs are completed. The ship has taken part in some of the most significant naval battles of the 20th century, and we hope it will continue to be around for future generations of Texans to enjoy,” says Rodney Franklin, Director of Texas State Parks.

Plan a visit to the San Jacinto Monument soon to get one last look at this epic USS Texas since we really don’t where she will go or when. The monument and museum has so much to offer. You get to see the largest stone monument in the US! Yes, it is bigger than the Washington Monument – very Texan indeed. Also, the museum in the base of the monument is small but preserves military uniforms, letters, and memorabilia from early Texas history and the revolution.

The film you can watch in this beautiful theater is an award winning look into the events leading from the early, strong relationship between Texas and Mexico, and the breakdown of communication which lead to the revolution. You will learn why our battle cry is “Remember The Alamo!”

Clay hilariously informed that he already knows all about the USS Texas because it is in in the video game Call of Duty! He really did know a ton of history and innerworkings of the ship from the game. Hey, however, they learn… Don’t miss your chance to see Battleship Texas!

9 for 2019! Vote for the best nature pic of the year!

We had an amazing year traveling throughout the United States in our brand new RV! It was our first adventure with dry camping, long hauls, cross country expeditions, driving in the mountains, driving in the desert, and so much more! Candace and Brian also took a special anniversary getaway to Cuba. This once-in-a-lifetime trip was magical. We had a thousand epic adventures, and we learned so much! Vote for your favorite pic of 2019! We will make the winner our cover photo!

Mammoth Cave Christmas Tree

Big Bend National Park

Shenandoah River State Park

Tennessee skies

Sequoia National Park – Grove

Kings Canyon – Meadow

Yosemite National Park

Viñales, Cuba

Havana

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