Planning the Perfect Trip to Yellowstone

Morning steam rising from thermal features, an erupting geyser in the distance. Bison herds grazing across the plain. The occasional bear lumbering in the woods, pawing through fallen logs for insects. Cascading waterfalls plunging into a rising, hissing fog. Yellowstone is a magical place, full of beauty, wonder, and wildlife. There’s nothing like visiting this national treasure. Follow these tips to plan your Yellowstone trip like a pro.

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Decide how to get there.

Whether you’re driving your own vehicle, renting one, or going with a tour group, this will be a huge factor in what you will be able to do or see in Yellowstone. Driving yourself will allow more freedom to make stops and detours as you please, while going with a group organized by a tour company allows you to relax and absorb your surroundings.

Go off grid.

Cell service is very limited in Yellowstone, so plan ahead to ensure you have what you need while in the park. Download the Yellowstone map and new app ahead of time as well as anything else you may need to access. Before arriving, in the app, select the “Settings” option and tap the choice “Download Offline Content” in order to access most of the app’s features while out of service range. Lastly, pick up a hard copy of the map for free at a park entrance or any visitor center for back up. Visitor centers typically also have some cell signal and pay phones. 

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Photo by ian dooley on Unsplash

Plan ahead.

If you want to overnight in Yellowstone at one of the lodging options, plan to make a reservation at least a year in advance. Even campsites quickly fill up. If you are having trouble finding availability, check back daily, as people frequently cancel reservations as plans change, or consider doing a long, full day and staying outside the park near one of the five entry points where there are more accommodation options.

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Pack a picnic.

While there are some nice places to eat in the park, they can be crowded and eat into your time that could be otherwise spent exploring. There are plenty of picnic areas located throughout the park where you can pull off and enjoy a homemade lunch or snack along a beautiful river or overlook.

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Photo by Lucie Capkova on Unsplash

Look for wildlife along the way.

Part of the fun of exploring Yellowstone is the opportunities for wildlife sightings. Keep a sharp lookout for bears, bison, elk, and more throughout the drive, especially in the middle and north parts of the park. Early morning and evening are prime animal-viewing hours. Remember to keep a safe distance from all animals, even if they appear docile. The National Park Service asks visitors to keep 100 yards between themselves and bears and wolves and at least 25 yards for everything else.

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Consider human and wildlife traffic.

These can create delays in your itinerary. While ambitious travelers could feasibly drive the entire loop in one day, it is a very long day of driving, and these unexpected traffic jams can add delays to your trip.


Have more questions? Comment below and we’ll be happy to reply!

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Travel Guide to Tbilisi in 48 hours

After all, a city that was founded in the 5th century is basically guaranteed to have quite the story with incredible sights to discover. Take in the colorful sights of Old Town and stroll down Rustaveli Street, which runs north through south through most of the city.

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Admire Sioni Cathedral and pop into the surrounding shops on Sioni Street. This is the oldest structure in Tbilisi, dating back to the 5-6th centuries, and it is also one of the most beautiful cathedrals in the city. People come into town to sell their goods off of carts along the street outside, and all the Tbilisi locals recommended buying the traditional Georgian candy churchkhela (shaped like a candle and typically made from grape must, nuts and flour) from one of these carts since they’re the best homemade ones you can get– they weren’t wrong. I also bought some delicious churchkhela from a vendor down the street from his open air shop to bring home to friends and family. There’s also a really nice rug shop with gorgeous traditional Georgian rugs of all shapes and sizes you can bring home, which the country is famous for.

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Grab a bite at the Bakery at Sioni. You can walk right by this hidden gem without even knowing what it is. The sign to the oldest bakery on Sioni Street is in faded Georgian, but is the last building right next to a swanky looking restaurant with a golden statue on its outside wall, then walk down the stairs. This bakery produces Georgian bread (puri) in cylindrical ovens. I’m so bummed that I didn’t discover this bakery until my last day in Tbilisi, but you can bet I bought all the pastries I thought I could fit in my bag to last me through my return flight the next day. My favorite was a sweet bread with white cheese inside.

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Walk through Rike Park and across the Peace Bridge. Rike Park is so charming and visited by tourists and families alike. Enjoy the Tbilisi sunshine on a bench and snap some great IG-worthy shots in front of the odd tubular structure, which is the unfinished Concert Hall & Exhibition Center.

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Walking across the bridge will give you really neat views of both the bridge’s unique architectural structure and the city. But beware of tourist traps and pickpockets, since the bridge is quite narrow and a funnel for this type of unwanted attention.

Soak in the Autotubani. Soak in the beneficial natural sulphur hot springs. Legend has it that Tbilisi was founded when the King of Georgia discovered the springs, which gave the city its name, meaning “warm place.” These dome-looking structures are actually the roofs of bathhouses down below! Choose from a variety of baths across varying price points. The public bathhouses are the least expensive, or splurge a bit for your own private room. I had a great experience at Chreli Abano, which is housed in the beautiful blue mosaic building at the end of Abano Street (you can see it to the left of my head poking over one of the brick domes). Most bathhouses will show you their available rooms for you to choose from, but I highly recommend you booking a room in advance because the most popular ones get booked up quickly.

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Hike up to Narikala Fortress & Kartlis Deda. Be prepared in somewhat study walking shoes – the hills and stairs up to the top are steep and on rough cobblestone. Climb the fortress walls and prepare for stunning panoramic views of Tbilisi. From the fortress, you can hike on a well-traveled path along a ridge with continued views of the city down below up to Kartlis Deda. The statue is dubbed the Mother of Georgia as she holds both a glass of wine and a sword, representing hospitality to those who come to Georgia as friends, and protector to those who wish to cause harm.

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Stroll the narrow cobblestone streets of Old Town. Take in the unique architecture in this neighborhood. The district is full of peculiar wooden houses with open, carved balconies that cling to the mountainside under Narikala Fortress.

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Enjoy brunch, coffee, or something stronger at the Stamba Hotel. The Stamba Hotel is one of the swankiest spots in all of Tbilisi, and its reputation is well-deserved. Housed in a former publishing house in Tbilisi, Stamba Hotel combines 1930s nostalgic references with a contemporary hotel concept and has enough charm to make you swoon. I got treated to a private tour – literally just upon request because I was interested in what the rest of the hotel looked like! – and this is hands down my favorite hotel I’ve never stayed in (not yet, anyways).

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Cafe Stamba is a multi-functional space divided into several sections, including a swanky restaurant, coffee and chocolate bar where they make their own chocolates, an Asian eatery with food prepped before your eyes, and I mean, LOOK at this bar and massive chandelier! We hear the cocktails are also especially impressive. While you’re here, visit the Rooms Hotel bar, which is a fun, more casual spot in the Stamba Hotel’s sister hotel right next door.

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Kick your feet up and enjoy the patio weather at Hotel Winery 1896 or Tbili Sio. I discovered this magical patio away from the bustle of Rustaveli Street by complete accident when I was wandering through a small flower market next to the Hard Rock Cafe. I noticed there was a cute-looking park that led to a cozy courtyard which several cafes opened onto around the backside of the building. The house red wine was fantastic, and really I don’t think this atmosphere could be beat. I was more than happy to sit back and listen to the cheerful banter in a language I can’t understand and just totally take in the magical evening.

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Hopefully you’ll have more than just 48 hours to explore Tbilisi, but we hope this list is a great place to start.

What other questions do you have about Tbilisi? Let me know in the comments below, I’d love to hear from you.

Coming soon: Where to eat and drink in Tbilisi – according to locals!

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Undiscovered Paris: A Self-Guided Tour of Paris’ Hidden Gems

We truly believe that Paris is best explored by wandering. Or as the French call it, flâner. And while we could spent a lifetime strolling around Paris, we thought we would save you some time and compiled a list of the top hidden spots in Paris!

Le Palais Royal

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Despite its proximity to the Louvre, this spot gets passed up by many tourists. This garden oasis is a reprieve from the bustle just outside its walls in the heart of Paris. And its black and white columns make for a fun Instagram shot! People watch in the gardens or from atop a column and soak in some sunshine.

Courtyard of the National Archives

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While the National Archives are a tourist destination, the gardens are worth exploring in themselves. For the quietest time, visit on a Tuesday when the archives are closed, but the grounds are still open. Walk through the main gates and to the right for more gardens and impressive building exterior views.

Passages of Paris

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We came across several of these covered arcades, which are easy to walk right by without noticing. These arcades often have shops and restaurants housed on the interior. The Galerie Vero-Dodat is one of 25 remaining passageways built in the 19th century. The passage’s black and white diamond-shaped marble paving give it a beautiful effect, and the parts of the ceiling that are not glass are decorated with beautiful engravings. We found this arcade to be especially enchanting in the evening. And the Christian Louboutin store housed here is perfect for window shopping. After stopping by Galerie Vero-Dodat, catch happy hour in one of the small bars nearby.

Les Arènes de Lutèce

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Did you know that Paris has a Roman Colosseum of its very own? Long forgotten, this remnant from the Gallo-Roman era resurfaced in the 1800s during construction in the area. Situated in the Latin Quarter, this amphitheater could once seat 15,000 spectators for gladiator fights. The Arènes de Lutèce is a fun stop for history buffs, and a walk around the perimeter past beautiful gardens is enjoyable for all.

Neighborhood courtyard parks

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Paris has some incredible parks tucked into its neighborhoods that only locals know about. Square Georges Cain is a little park situated in the trendy Marais district, and provides an oasis of greenery to people who have been lucky enough to stumble upon it. This park is also popular among neighborhood regulars who would like to keep it a secret. Square Georges Cain has two pieces of artwork: ‘L’Aurore’, a bronze statue of a nude woman in the middle of a rose bed by the 17th-century sculptor Laurent Magnier, and ‘Le Rossignol Electrique’ by Eric Samakh (1990), a small electronic bird that starts singing whenever the wind blows.

 

Église St. Gervais & Rue des Barres

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Rue des Barres is a stone’s throw from Île de la Cité but will transport you to a quaint village setting. Chairs line the cobblestone street in the warmer months and are ideal for people watching. Tucked into this street is Église St. Gervais. This church is overshadowed by its more famous neighbor, Notre Dame de Paris, but is equally beautiful. The church was built between 1494 and 1657 and its facade was the first example of French baroque style in Paris.

 

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Best Indoor Activities to Do in Washington, D.C.

Don’t let a bit of rain ruin your fun in Washington, D.C.! These indoor, rainy day activities are the perfect way to spend a weekend in the Capital City.

 

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Museum exhibits

Some of our favorite Smithsonian museums include the Air and Space and American History Museums. If you have seen it all, or just want a break from the ever-popular Smithsonians, explore the Phillips Collection in DuPont. Opened in 1921, the Phillips Collection is the America’s first museum of modern art located in a converted Georgian Revival style home. Luncheon of the Boating Party by Renoir (pictured here) is among the museum’s personal collection.

 

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U.S. Botanic Garden

Rain or shine, winter or summer, the U.S. Botanic Garden is sure to be green and warm any time of year. This living plant museum was established by the U.S. Congress in 1820 and is one of the oldest botanic gardens in North America. Wander among blooming orchids, cacti of all shapes and sizes, dramatic air plants, and gigantic trees.

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Bookshop browsing

There is nothing better than snuggling up with a good book while the rain pours outside. Browse in these unique and quintessentially D.C. spots: Capitol Hill Books, Second Story Books, and Kramerbooks.

 

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Library of Congress

Speaking of books… Did you know there are more than 162 million items stored here, making the Library of Congress the largest library collection in the world? Notable exhibits include a re-created version of Jefferson’s library, the first document printed with the name “America” (also known as America’s “birth certificate”), and Lincoln’s pocket items at the time of his assassination.

 

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Coffee shops with a unique atmosphere

Heads up that many D.C. coffee shops have selective hours on Sundays. Our favorites are Baked & Wired in Georgetown (both the cupcakes and coffee are excellent), Emissary in DuPont (great brunch and happy hour every day 4-7pm too), and Sidamo Coffee & Tea on H Street (they roast their beans on-site and perform Ethiopian coffee ceremonies on weekends).

The West Texas Bucket List

Your guide to the top things to do and see in West Texas.

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Davis Mountains – Far west Texas isn’t just open desert like the movies would have you believe. Explore Davis Mountains State Park’s miles of trails, camping, and informational programming… More

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McDonald Observatory – The stars at night are extra big and bright at this West Texas mountaintop observatory. Hundreds of miles from bright city lights, the McDonald Observatory offers unbeatable star gazing… More

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The Gage Hotel – This historic desert oasis in Marathon, TX was voted among the top Texas hotels by Condé Nast. Talk about old country charm!… More

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Marfa – In this tiny West Texas town, there’s a Gram-worthy photo around practically every corner that is sure to elicit jealousy from friends… More

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Alpine – Explore the town of Alpine, located between Marfa and Marathon. Catch a semi-pro Cowboys baseball game at historic Kokernot Field… More

Let us know what you think in the comments below!

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Star Gazing at McDonald Observatory

The stars at night are extra big and bright at this West Texas mountaintop observatory. Hundreds of miles from bright city lights, the McDonald Observatory offers stargazers unbeatable views. Plan your visit around catching a Star Party where you’ll have access to outdoor telescopes at the observatory’s park and an interactive overview of the night sky. Star Parties are offered on Tuesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. Dress warmly with layers because nighttime temps dip, even in the summer. Daytime activities are also offered if you’re not a night owl.

Weather conditions can quickly change near the observatory, so if the skies are overcast in the morning, things may clear up by evening. If it happens to be cloudy during your visit, you’ll be offered alternative programming indoors, or you may be able to reschedule.

Stay the night at accommodations close to the observatory. Options include Indian Lodge, or for the more adventurous, pitch a tent at Davis Mountains State Park.

Nearby things to do: 

Davis Mountains

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The Gage Hotel

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Marfa

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Alpine

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Alpine, Texas: “The Last Frontier”

Explore the town of Alpine, located between Marfa and Marathon. Get a sense of place at Stylle Read’s wall mural Big Brewster outside of the Kiowa Gallery. This mural portrays notable town figures including visionaries such as Everett Townsend who spearheaded the creation of Big Bend National Park, successful rancher Herbert Kokernot who established the Alpine Cowboys baseball club in 1946, and local celebs such as Dan Blocker who became better known as Hoss Cartwright on the“Bonanza” TV series also appear in the mural. Keep an eye out for more murals scattered throughout Alpine.

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Catch a semi-pro Alpine Cowboys baseball game at historic Kokernot Field during the season that runs from May through August. With inexpensive tickets, a boisterous local crowd, the Davis Mountains as the field’s backdrop and brews from nearby Big Bend Brewing Co., you’re guaranteed to have a good time. Fun fact: the 06 symbol found throughout the park tie in to the Kokernot family’s cattle branding from back in the day. Not in town during baseball season? You can still visit the field’s exterior intricate ironwork.

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The Museum of the Big Bend at Sul Ross University is worth a visit. The Big Bend Legacy exhibit gives visitors deep insight into the natural and human histories of the region. Other temporary rotating exhibits include Terry Cockerham’s “Big Bend and the Terlingua Project” and “Early Education and the Annual Summer Normal in Alpine.” Admission to all exhibits is free!

Nearby things to do:

McDonald Observatory

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The Gage Hotel

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Marfa

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Davis Mountains

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The Gage Hotel in West Texas

The Gage Hotel is located in the charming town of Marathon that still has a frontier feel to this day. On the U.S. National Registry of Historic Places, the Gage Hotel was built in 1926 by successful rancher Alfred Gage and later converted into a hotel.

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Guests can stay in the historic Western style hotel, pueblo style adobe brick rooms in Los Portales, or have complete privacy in casitas. Enjoy the hotel pool, gym, White Buffalo bar, and V6 health conscious foods for your coffee and smoothie needs.

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Watch people and trains passing by from the ivy covered porch in a wooden rocking chair, mediate in a courtyard, or cool off in the pool with a frozen drink from the White Buffalo bar. With so much old country charm, its no surprise that this historic desert oasis was voted among the top Texas hotels by Condé Nast Traveler.

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Located a short distance across the train tracks is the manicured Gage Gardens, covering a lush 27 acres. We recommend visiting early in the morning to enjoy cooler temps and beautiful lighting.

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Learn more about the Gage Hotel and make reservations.

Things to do nearby:

Davis Mountains

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McDonald Observatory

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Marfa

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Alpine

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Top Photo Ops in Marfa, Texas

A tiny blip on the radar, Marfa is a far West Texas town turned cultural art mecca. Getting there won’t be easy though — the nearest airports are located in El Paso and Midland and are both about 3 hours away — but we promise the extra effort will be worth it! In this tiny West Texas town, there’s a Gram-worthy photo around practically every corner that is sure to elicit jealousy from friends. Here are our top photo op picks and things to do in Marfa.

The Paisano Hotel

The historic Paisano Hotel has old world charm, so its no wonder the film stars of the movie epic Giant, including Elizabeth Taylor and James Dean chose to stay here when filming nearby. The hotel courtyard offers a tranquil relaxation spot, and the bubbling fountain makes you almost forget you’re in the west Texas desert. Step inside the lobby to view photography on exhibit from the making of the film epic Giant. Bonus: Grab a super cheap and delicious breakfast burrito served up at the hotel restaurant in the am for just $5.

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Presidio County Courthouse

The charming pink building is nestled at the end of Marfa’s main street and can be seen from almost any spot in town. The view from the top of the courthouse tower is phenomenal, especially if you get up early to catch it at sunrise.

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Prada Marfa

The surreal Prada Marfa shop is a short 30 minute drive from Marfa through ranch land and desert. You’ve probably seen celebs like Rihanna pose in front of this false storefront, so why not snap a picture in front of it yourself? Plan to drive out in the evening to catch sunset for great lighting.

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El Cosmico campground

Just minutes from the heart of Marfa, El Cosmico campground offers visitors an eccentric glamping paradise. Stay overnight in colorful trailer homes, teepees or yurts. Communal spaces with hammocks and an outdoor kitchen give guests a chance to meet fellow travelers and exchange stories.

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Chinati Foundation

Renowned artist Donald Judd created larger than life installations in and around Marfa. The Chinati Foundation building in town exudes desert vibes with its dusty colored exterior. This converted building was formerly the Marfa Wool and Mohair Building in the center of town located just off the railroad tracks. Today, the building houses the installation of John Chamberlain’s 22 sculptures in painted and chromium-plated steel. Take a short trip out of town to visit more contemporary art installations that are part of the Chinati Foundation.

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Pure Joy Marfa tower

Located a few blocks off of the main street, this silo will remind you to find happiness in the little things.

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