My travel must-haves!

travel must haves

I’ve been very fortunate in my life to travel to many countries, and after meeting Wes, throughout my own country as well. I hope to slowly detail the trips that I’ve taken and make mini “travel guides” to some cities/countries I’ve visited, to share my experiences there and personal thoughts. For example, a secularist’s take on visiting Israel, female solo travel, hostel etiquette, travel hacks (beach towel color = key to lounge chairs) and more!

But for now, I wanted to share some of my must-haves when traveling. Some of these are obvious, but some of these ideas come with specific product recommendations (#1 and #2) that I’ve found after trying a few things and have been lifesavers. Check em out, and let me know what you think! Did I miss any?

*Note: all opinions are my own and I’m not being compensated at all. Most links to products available through AmazonSmile, benefitting my workplace/favorite charity ever, Lucy’s Love Bus. We provide comfort and quality of life to children with cancer through free integrative therapies, and any purchase made starting at our AmazonSmile link equals some money to help continue our work!

1. Water bottle

Granted, some places might not have water that is safe to drink from the tap- but do some research and follow the locals on this one. I always take a water bottle with me anyway, and I especially love my Platypus 1L SoftBottle with Push-Pull Cap. When you’re flying and can’t have water in it, you just empty it out/down it and roll it up. I also like it because if I do run out of water, I can put it in my purse and don’t have to worry about carrying it around. Some of my purses will have side pockets or awkward openings, and this will contort and fit if I don’t feel like carrying it when it’s full! I like this size, but they have a .5L and larger sizes as well. They also come with different options for caps, and I love the push-pull because sometimes you have your hands full, and the screw on cap becomes impossible to open. Lots of options for these water bottles!


2. Reusable Bag

Many other countries (especially in Europe) don’t have plastic bags at grocery stores like we do here (and even then, you should always avoid plastic and bring your own). Sometimes they don’t have them available, sometimes they charge a fee to use them. Avoid the hassle and bring your own bag! I’m in LOVE with my Grand Trunk Eco Travel Bag because it all folds up into its own pocket, so it easily fits in my purse/pack when not in use! It comes in handy at the grocery store, farmers market, or even as a beach bag!



3. Portable USB charger

How many times have you been at the airport and all the outlets are taken, or on a train with a dying phone and no outlet in sight, or high on a bunk in a dorm watching your battery drain? Raising my hand really high on that one! This small portable charger has been a lifesaver, and I only just got it as a stocking stuffer this past Christmas! When you do have access to an outlet (or another way of charging it, like plugging it in your laptop) give it some juice and then it will work to charge your usb devices! Some even have a flashlight on one end!


4. Dry Spray Deodorant

I’m the queen of arriving to my destination with some sort of explosion in my suitcase or backpack. The worst, in my opinion, is when your stick deodorant lid cracks and your suitcase overheated so now you have gooey little chunks of white deodorant on your clothes… not easy to clean. Spray deodorant makes that impossible, but while in Europe, I also find out another use for it: making friends/not coming off as a snobby American. Some Germans we met in our Berlin hostel told us that the fact that we use stick deodorant makes it seem like we aren’t friendly and communal: stick deodorant, applied directly to the skin, is then seen as a personal item, whereas spray deodorant can be easily shared. So, there ya go! Two reasons to make the switch to dry deodorant, even if just when traveling!



5. Breath mints

Following the “practical use in addition to coming off friendly to new people” tangent like dry spray deodorant above is… breath mints! Not only is it handy to keep some on you to freshen up, but you can offer some to new friends! Breath mints are a universal language; offer some to those sharing your train car, and you’re guaranteed at least a smile 🙂 Orrrr they’ll politely refuse, but either way, your breath won’t stink!


6. Ear plugs

And totally opposite from the “making friends” side of things: bring ear plugs! If you’re staying in a shared dorm or hostel, with someone you haven’t traveled with before (or have and know they snore), or staying someplace you haven’t stayed at before (so you don’t know how loud the hall noise is/how thin the walls are) than you’ll be super glad you packed a pair of these suckers. You can buy a ton for cheap, so you pack some extra in case you leave ’em on a nightstand in another country.


7. Maps/offline city guides

One of my favorite parts about backpacking through Europe with my friend Kayley was that I was tasked with being “tour guide.” TripAdvisor had a City Guides app, which it phased out in August 2015 as its main TripAdvisor app became more comprehensive. Using that app, I would read aloud tips and facts about certain places we were visiting. We had our trip planned out as far as where we were going and (for the most part) where we were staying, but not necessarily what we were doing in each city. The app ranked the best places to visit in the city according to other app users, and then most places would also have facts and tidbits about that place. I decided part way through our trip to throw in a few made up facts while reading the guide, to see just how much Kayley believed me. The easiest time to do this was when we’d pass a statue or building, and would wonder the significance.

“Ah yes, this statue was erected after a young boar was briefly crowned king of Germany due to a misspelling in the decree. Rubbing his snout brings good luck and great fortune.” “REALLY?!” “No, Kayley, not really.”

Do you know how many statues there are in Europe?! I’d say 1 out of 6 had something in the app explaining why they were there. And all the others? I’d just pull up the app, and totally make something up. It was awesome. On our last stop together (Amsterdam), I finally broke the news, and we laughed for a gut-busting 10 minutes. Coming up in a future post: why you should travel with your best friend.

But yeah, when used correctly, guidebooks/city guide apps are awesome 😉


8. Offline language guide/pocket translation book

Obviously only needed when traveling somewhere that the common language is one you might not know. I’ve found these incredibly helpful in learning a few key phrases beforehand, and reading menus. I always learn “hello,” “goodbye,” “thank you,” “where is the restroom?” and “how much?” before going to a new place. But especially if you’re spending extended time somewhere, these can be super helpful. I was in Turkey for 2 weeks, and unlike some European languages that might have words similar to those English or Spanish so you could sort of guess what was on a sign or menu, I was totally lost. Since I was there for more than just a day or two, I learned a few extra things, like numbers, and asking if I needed a head covering or was allowed to enter (if going somewhere while wearing shorts/tank top, though that was rare). Especially if you were to get lost, these come in handy. There are lots of apps out there, some with instant translation capabilities (even offline) and others have more basic statements for lots of languages. Take a look at the app store for your device to find something, or buy a book!

East Side Gallery, Berlin. Photo credit: me.

So there ya have em, my travel must-haves! What are some things you always take with you on your trips?



5 things to keep in mind when planning camping stops on roadtrips


Wes comes from a roadtrip family. To him, a “day trip” can be to somewhere like, 5 hours away, with still a full day of sightseeing before a drive home… Me? Not so much. But, he LOVES driving, like really loves it, so it works for us. We try to do roadtrips, two weeks long, and camp along the way. These tips are pretty specific to camping roadtrips, but #5 applies to nearly all long-haul roadtrips. These are just a few things that we really didn’t take into account when planning, but definitely could’ve made a huge difference in a) where we stopped, and b) what we packed.

Get plannin’!

Approaching Guadalupe Mountains National Park

1. Showers

16 days, 101degree heat… TWO showers. That’s the biggest thing most people remember about our 2015 summer roadtrip, because it is a bit shocking. So just go ahead and trust me here- if you’re going the camping route, make sure to check if your campground has shower access! Since we were in the desert (in the summer), most campgrounds didn’t have shower facilities. Some parks will have several campgrounds, and some will have showers and some won’t. A lot times, you can find tips on local places to shower (check TripAdvisor for these sorts of tips); but for this trip, were in the middle of nowhere, so there were no options nearby. We don’t need to shower everyday, but especially if you’ll be covering yourself with sunscreen and bug spray, in addition to sweat… you’ll want the option more often than not. We’ve made it a rule that a shower facility must be planned every 3-4 days during any and all future trips, whether that’s a specifically-planned campground with showers, or even a hotel/AirBnB.

Now, a note: many truck stops will have shower facilities. I have been to some very nice and clean truck stops. I have also been to some terrifyingly disgusting and creepy truck stops. At a pretty decent truck stop this past summer, as I sat stewing in a week’s worth of sludge, I seriously considered whether or not to bite the bullet. Combined with car rides averaging 7 hours, I was cheesy, to say the least. My advice is, do what’s comfortable, and be smart. I’m not saying I’ll never use a truck stop bathroom, but I’m saying that I’ll likely push a little more for mindfulness in planning!

2. Shade/time of year

Shade (or lack thereof) was not something we really thought about when planning this roadtrip through southern Texas in the middle of August. Yeah… not many trees in the desert! And the few campsites at Big Bend that had some sort of covering were claimed by the time we rolled in. So I would suggest being mindful of this—we saw many tarps strung up in creative ways, whether people used their cars, cacti, or even brought their own tall poles to twist into the hard ground… but we were pretty exposed when we were at the campsite. One savior: our hammock. This small Eno hammock fits nicely in our pack, and we strung it up between whatever trees we could so that we had a makeshift nap place at our fingertips. One of the sweetest (and most practical) gifts Wes has ever gotten me, as I always talked about wanting a hammock.

3. Liquor laws

Obviously doesn’t apply to everyone, but something we definitely regretted not thinking of during our travels! We love trying out local beers, and so usually plan on getting some beer to bring to the campsite as we’re getting closer to our destination, to crack open after camp is set up. What we didn’t factor in is that liquor laws vary not only by state, but by county as well. If you’re like us and want to kick back with a cold one after a long day driving or hiking or whatever, look up the local liquor laws at your destination to ensure that’s doable! At Big Bend, you can’t buy alcohol on Sundays -but they have a ton of other weird and random laws to keep in mind. Mammoth Cave is situated in a historically dry county that only recently started to sell. Carlsbad, New Mexico doesn’t sell alcohol, so if you’re camping at nearby Guadalupe Mountains, it’s quite the drive into NM to find anything!

Also a good tip- if you’re into local beer like us, check out any breweries on your route and confirm hours before your trip. Cell service was minimal most of our journey, and even then, some breweries only had hours posted on Google, which proved extremely unreliable. We’ll be double checking everything before we head out this summer! (Related: don’t ever go to Marfa.)

River Rat Brewery in Columbia, SC (close to Congaree NP)

4. Drinking water

To state the obvious, the desert is a dry place. But it’s important to keep in mind wherever you go: there’s no guarantee that there will be water, or that it’s potable. Make sure to do your research ahead of time, and be conservative in what water you take if there are options to save water! We stopped in Hot Springs, Arkansas before we made our way into the desert for a week. Hot Springs has an abundance of water for free throughout the city at public taps, so we filled everything we had before making our way into Texas. We filled two 5-gallon jugs, our 2-liter pack bladders, and the 10 or so water bottles we had with us. We only had to fill the 2 liter bladders on the last day in the desert.

You’ll also want to ensure that if there is water, that it’s potable. We go to Isle au Haut in Acadia in Maine every year. In 2014, the water from the tap just outside the campground was good to go. In 2015, it was undrinkable. We hadn’t checked ahead to make sure the water would be safe, because we’d assumed it would be fine since we’d been there the year before. But the crazy weather saw a rise in mercury in groundwater, so thankfully we always have tablets in our packs. There are lots of different types of filtration systems or tablets to ensure you can make drinking water out of nearly any water source. This summer, we’re backcountry camping in Isle Royale and Voyageurs, so we’ll need to bring our water with us as well as filtration systems.

5. Time in car and of arrival

Now, this is a crucial piece where Wes and I disagree. To him, a “long day” in the car is anything over 12 hours. Seriously. For me, 7 is a stretch. So decide for yourself and talk with any travel companions about what’s reasonable for you, and how you’ll make it work. For me, we’ll need to plan some sort of stop to stretch our legs. If there isn’t a historic site or brewery along the drive, than I factor in a stop for a real lunch or a scenic walk or SOMETHING. Make sure to download new music or audiobooks, create playlists, or lineup podcasts. We also read a lot of Trivial Pursuit cards to each other. Sometimes, there’s just not much to look at along the way, so finding ways to stay entertained is crucial.

It’s also important to keep in mind your time of arrival- if you’ll be camping and arriving after dark, make sure to have light sources at the ready for easy set up as soon as you pull in (shout out to our headlamps!). We arrived after dark a few times, and the deal was I would make a fire and get dinner started while Wes set up camp.



A long roadtrip (and especially camping along the way) isn’t for everyone, but it can be ridiculously fun. Keeping these tips in mind will help everything run smoothly!

Needless to say, I think I’ll roadtrip with him again ☺

Building like what?

Breaking down what’s to come

Wow, I’m a liar. To say this year has FLOWN BY is an understatement. So obviously, I have not kept up with posting. So I’ll really try this time…? Yeah, I will. I promise! I’ll make some posts about our trips, what I packed, what we want to bring next time that we did not bring this time, etc. I figure since “third time’s the charm” in getting this thing started, I’ll use this as an introductory post into who we are, and what sort of things you can expect to see from this blog!

Barley: The Man, The Myth, The Legend

First thing’s first: Building Like Barley. Name of the blog, named after a dog. Aka Señor Barlos, Sir Barlington, BAR!, BarButt. To see so much personality in such a small package is truly incredible.

Barley is about 16lbs (he’s put on some winter weight) but thinks he’s closer to 150. Continue reading “Building like what?”

Here we go!

I have no idea how to start this blog. It’s my hope that one day, this blog will be as popular as the ones I follow. I tried to do some research to see how some of my favorite bloggers started their blogs. What was the topic of their first post? What captured the attention of the masses and helped them launch such inspiring and creative blogs that they turned it into a living?

But what I found is that getting all the way back to their first posts requires a lot of effort. They’ve published so many posts, and captured so many stunning images of their creations, or from their travels, or just of their lives in general that sifting back to the start would be a project in itself. I mean, just look at this list and get an idea of the competition out there– and these are just travel blogs.

The reality is that it takes hours and hours and hours of writing, editing words and images, and not to mention the hours of actual experience (traveling or baking or designing or building or ALL OF THE ABOVE) that was necessary to even create ONE POST for a blog in the first place! Liz at Young Adventuress and Kate at Relokate both lay down the truth about how to eventually turn travel blogging into a living– and how it takes a LOT of hard work and dedication behind the scenes to churn out blogs as awesome as theirs.

Buuuuut for now, I love my job and will stay there for a while, so I have some time to learn how to get this thing moving. But boy, do we have big plans! Here is what I hope this blog will document: our attempts at building our own tiny home, and our journey to visit all of the units of the National Park Service (that’s over 400 units, not just the 59 National Parks… yeah, I’m dating a crazy person). Those are the big-scale hopes for this blog (and our life in general); a little bit more realistically, I hope to start learning the ins and outs of blogging, to hone my ability to create graphics, to document my attempts at cooking (HA), and just have a good way to compile all types of adventures into one place.

There will be lots of traveling. There will be lots of eating. There will be lots of DOG PICTURES! So stay tuned. If you’re reading this, thanks for being there before we got famous– we won’t forget you!

And one thing I’ve already learned is that I’m supposed to ask a question at the end of the post! So, what was your first blog post about? What are some of the key things you’ve learned about blogging that you think I, a new blogger, should know?

Up next: what kind of name is that for a blog?