Where to Swim With Sharks (Really)
Sharks are absolutely crucial when it comes to having a healthy ocean environment. Luckily, supporting shark conservation comes in many different forms and you can be a part of it. From shark-tagging with scientists in the Bahamas to swimming with sharks in Hawaii to photographing them in Rhode Island, here’s where to score quality time with these misunderstood creatures.
1. Exuma, Bahamas
The gorgeous waters off Great Exuma are home to tiger sharks, nurse sharks and Caribbean reef sharks galore. Thanks to the Bahamas' distinction as a shark sanctuary, the shark population here is protected and healthy. That said, it’s an ideal place to conduct shark research. That’s where Beneath the Waves, a nonprofit-organization focused on shark conservation, and The Grand Isle Resort & Spa, come in. Its shark-tagging program gives people the chance to step into the role of shark scientist for the day.
For four hours you’ll be gathering scientific data from sharks to help scientists understand the shark’s movements and how the sharks are using their habitats. Guests, if they choose, help measure the sharks, take small tissue and fin-clip samples and attach tags and tracking devices to sharks. So far, the team has tagged almost 200 sharks in the Bahamas.
Afterward, relax at Grand Isle with a massage, a dip in the infinity-edge pool or a Bahamian-inspired dinner at 23° North Beach Club. Hotel guests have full access and non-guests may purchase a day pass for $50. If you’re ready to venture out again, the hotel can arrange lunch on a private island or a boat tour through the Exuma Cays for cave snorkeling and a stop at a gorgeous sandbar.
- How it works: Reserve spots on shark-tagging adventures by making a donation to Beneath the Waves.
- What else is there to see: Stingrays, sea turtles, and an island of iguanas.
- When to go: Keep an eye on the website to find out when the next excursions will be.
2. La Jolla, Calif.
Each year, leopard sharks flock to the photogenic coast of La Jolla, a seaside community in San Diego. What makes it so special? It’s the largest annual aggregation of leopard sharks in the world. Thanks to the calm, shallow water and nutrient-rich kelp forests, it’s an ideal place for hundreds of pregnant female leopard sharks to take up residence; they’re often just a few feet from shore.
Say hello to the sharks while you flipper-kick through four microhabitats in the La Jolla Underwater Park. An hourlong leopard-shark tour with Everyday California is perfect for newbie shark enthusiasts since leopard sharks (typically about 4 feet long) are virtually harmless. Added bonus: Their distinctive markings make for some epic underwater photos. If you’re lucky, you may spot tiny baby leopard sharks.
Continue the adventure by kayaking to the sea caves or hiking Mount Soledad for epic views of San Diego County. When hunger strikes, pop into Blue Water Seafood for drool-worthy fish tacos, oysters and homemade seafood soups.
- How it works: Meet at the Everyday California shop and two snorkel guides will lead you through the rocky reefs in search of leopard sharks.
- What else is there to see? Shovel nose guitar fish, dolphins, sea lions, lobsters and turtles.
- When to go: July through September
3. Tiger Beach, Bahamas
The Bahamas is also home to Tiger Beach, a consistently sharky spot attracting divers from around the world. Known for their beautiful stripes and broad, flat heads, tiger sharks are the star attraction of this dive spot. You can’t miss ‘em: These mammoths can weigh more than 1,900 pounds. An added bonus: Reef sharks, lemon sharks, hammerheads and nurse sharks love to frequent the area, too.
Because visibility is often 100 feet or more at Tiger Beach, it makes for not only an unforgettable dive but also an insane backdrop for photos. Believe it or not, many of these creatures travel thousands of miles each year and end up back at Tiger Beach consistently.
West End Watersports, a dive shop located at Old Bahama Bay Resort & Yacht Harbour, is where the adventure begins. From the hotel, it’s a two-and-a-half-hour boat ride to Tiger Beach. You’ll have two 1-hour long dives in approximately 25 feet of water.
- How it works: Groups are limited to a maximum of eight divers. Guests staying at Old Bahama Bay receive a diving discount.
- What else is there to see: Sea turtles, mahi mahi, tuna, grouper, snapper and barracuda.
- When to go: September to April
4. Cancun, Mexico
To score some quality time with the biggest shark in the ocean, the whale shark, visit Cancun. Hundreds of the majestic creatures (some are the length of a school bus) migrate here every year to feed and socialize. You can get close enough to the gentle giants to clearly see the perfectly patterned pale yellow dots and stripes on their skin. Don’t worry, though: Plankton is their snack of choice.
Blue Caribe Tours takes guests (up to 10) on a day trip that gives you two glorious hours swimming with the whale sharks. Afterward, enjoy a pitstop in Punta Norte in Isla Mujeres to snack on fresh ceviche.
Rest your head at TRS Coral Hotel, an adults-only all-inclusive in Cancun. Treat your muscles to a hot and cold hydromassage bath at the spa, relax in the pool in a floating chair or take a ride on the boat channel system. With one private beach club, seven à la carte restaurants, one show-cooking restaurant and 18 bars, it’s impossible to be bored. Be sure to leave time to see the Mayan ruins and a nearby cenote.
- How it works: For the whale-shark tour, Blue Caribe picks guests up at the hotel around 7:30 a.m. and returns them around 4 p.m.
- What else is there to see: Sea turtles, manta rays and starfish.
- When to go: June through September
5. Narragansett, Rhode Island
New England is home to about 50 species of sharks. The main ones you will come across, though, are the blue shark and the mako shark. Hitting speeds of up to 60 m.p.h., makos are the fastest shark in the ocean. Both travel the Gulf Stream waters here, and it’s one of only a few locations in the world where they can regularly be encountered.
Rhode Island Shark Diving, run by award-winning shark cinematographer Joe Romeiro, offers a 12-hour excursion on a 45-foot research vessel custom-made for interacting with and filming wildlife. Throughout the day sharks will arrive at the boat as you drift over different sites.
- How it works: Most trips are run in three consecutive days to maximize the animals you see. There are a few days per month, however, for one or two-day trips. Divers must wear all-black wetsuits, fins, gloves, hoods, masks and snorkels.
- What else is there to see: Whales, dolphins, mola mola and mahi mahi.
- When to go: Mid-June to mid-September
6. Oahu, Hawaii
About three miles off of Oahu’s North Shore, it’s possible to find Galapagos sharks, sandbar sharks and tiger sharks. For a chance to spend quality time with them, sign up for a 2-hour pelagic shark snorkel with Ocean Ramsey’s One Ocean Diving, and you might meet Captain Pancakes, Frankenfin or Miss Aloha. (The team has affectionately named some of the repeat shark visitors.) When it comes to sharks, Ramsey’s goal is to replace fear with education. Guests join marine biologists on the excursion and learn all about shark conservation and research.
- How it works: Guests don snorkels and stay near the boat. For divers who want a more in-depth look at sharks, consider the 4-hour One Ocean advanced shark diving and tiger search program where you’ll learn even more about shark behavior.
- What else is there to see: Green sea turtles, spinner dolphins, monk seals, flying fish, Booby birds, whales (November-May) and whale sharks.
- When to go: All year long.
If you are itching to see Scalloped hammerheads, here’s your chance. Four major currents combined with nutrient-dense waters make the Galapagos Islands an incredible home for sharks, especially hammerheads.
Ecoventura’s Galapagos Sky, a live-aboard built specifically for diving in the Galapagos, takes guests on a 7-day cruise to places like the remote Wolf and Darwin Islands, which have the highest abundance of sharks in the world. Here, it’s common to see big schools of hammerheads. Wreck Bay Dive Center, on San Cristobal Island, is a solid choice if you’d like to do a day or two of diving.
- How it works: Due to strong currents and diving depths, divers must be advanced.
- What else is there to see? Penguins, turtles, sea lions, Galapagos Sharks, silky sharks, whitetips, blacktips, horn sharks, eagle rays, manta rays, dolphins, sea lions, Galapagos penguins, green sea turtles, hawksbill sea turtles, mola mola, endemic marine iguanas and whale Sharks (late May thru November).
- When to go: All year.
Explore the U.S. Space Program: 8 Places to Celebrate the Apollo 11 Moon Landing
This summer marks the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, and what better way to pay tribute to the U.S. space program than by planning an epic adventure? From informative exhibits and spacecraft on display to activities that bring visitors closer to the stars, here are eight destinations across America that offer an out-of-this-world experience. 1. Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex: Merritt Island, Florida (Thomaskelley/Dreamstime) Spread out along Florida’s Space Coast, the Kennedy complex (kennedyspacecenter.com) is organized into mission zones, with attractions and tours arranged in chronological order. The Heroes and Legends exhibit honors pioneers in space exploration, while another tour gets up close and personal with the space shuttle Atlantis. Nearby, the American Space Museum and Walk of Fame in downtown Titusville is staffed by former space-center employees and has exhibit halls dedicated to the Gemini, Mercury, and Apollo missions. At Port Canaveral, wander the Exploration Tower’s seven-story museum, then head up to the observation deck for a bird’s-eye view of the Cape’s launch pads and the entire port. Cap off the day at the Cove’s restaurant row for an alfresco meal at casual spots like the Grills Seafood Deck & Tiki Bar or FishLips Waterfront Bar and Grill. 2. Space Center Houston: Houston (Bambi L. Dingman/Dreamstime) Playing an iconic role in NASA history since 1961—who could forget Apollo 13's ominous message, “Houston, we have a problem”?—this Texas metropolis has more than earned its Space City moniker. The Space Center Houston (spacecenter.org) serves as both visitors’ center for the NASA Johnson Space Center and home to a massive collection of moon rocks and multi-flown aircraft in various galleries. Take a NASA tram tour of the JSC, then step inside a replica of the shuttle Independence, which is mounted on the NASA 905 shuttle aircraft. Visit the Starship Gallery to see the Skylab training module and the command module of Apollo 17, plus a fragment from its 1979 Earth reentry and JFK’s “We choose to go to the moon” speech podium. Across the main plaza at the Astronaut Gallery, scope out the space suits worn Wally Schirra and Kathryn Sullivan plus Sally Ride’s shuttle coveralls, then check out the Houston Museum of Natural Science for some stargazing at the George Observatory. Back on earth, Houston also has the Downtown Aquarium, the zoo, and the Museum of Fine Arts, and plenty of prime foodie options too. Try Truth BBQ’s 18-hour smoked brisket and the venison sausage spiked with black pepper and garlic at the Pit Room, or split a few things at Nancy’s Hustle, a modern bistro and bar with a plate-sharing theme. 3. Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum: New York (Tomasz Wozniak/Dreamstime) On the western edge of Manhattan's Hell’s Kitchen, docked at Pier 86, this aircraft carrier turned museum (intrepidmuseum.org) not only has an incredible aircraft collection representing all five branches of the U.S. Armed Forces, but it also holds the Enterprise, the prototype NASA orbiter that paved the way for the space shuttle program. At the Space Shuttle Pavilion, immersive exhibit zones with films, audio, artifacts, and photos tell the story of its legacy. Once you’ve had all the space you can handle, head four blocks south to Lucky Strike for some friendly competition over bowling and billiards. Add on six more blocks, and you’ll arrive at Hudson Yards, a high-end restaurant and retail enclave with an eye-catching, ticketed-entry spiral staircase called the Vessel. For even more meal choices, Gotham West Market has a small mix of artisanal food stalls, and Hell’s Kitchen’s Ninth Avenue is lined with dining options. 4. Arecibo Observatory: Arecibo, Puerto Rico (Ivan Kokoulin/Dreamstime) A facility of the National Science Foundation, Puerto Rico’s Arecibo Observatory (naic.edu/ao) is the world’s largest single-dish radio telescope, covering an area of about 20 acres. Self-tour the Science and Visitor Center or opt for the VIP version to see the 1,000 feet reflector up close from a vehicle; you can also take in the astronomy exhibits and check out the observation deck. Outside of the observatory, the Arecibo Lighthouse and Historical Park journeys through five eras of Puerto Rican history, and also has a mini-zoo, restaurant, and play area for the youngest aspiring astronauts. Other must-see spots include Cueva Ventana, which overlooks Rio Grande de Arecibo Valley and offers guided tours that touch on the cave’s ecosystem; Cueva del Indio, featuring impressive cliffs, petroglyphs, and a naturally formed rock bridge; and Arecibo’s La Poza del Obispo, a remote but popular beach spot. 5. U.S. Space & Rocket Center: Huntsville, Alabama (Leonardospencer/Dreamstime) Huntsville is true to its nickname, Rocket City, not least because the museum at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center (rocketcenter.com) displays one of only three authentic Saturn V moon rockets in the world. Catch an astronomy show at the INTUITIVE Planetarium, take on the challenge of a Mars climbing wall, and experience a motion-based flight simulation on the HyperShip. You can also tour the Redstone Arsenal—home of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center—by bus. And aim for the stars with hands-on astronaut training at Space Camp (spacecamp.com), the center’s anchor program. Back on earth, the Huntsville Botanical Garden houses an aquatic garden, herb garden, children’s garden, and an education center with amphibians and reptiles along with an open-air butterfly house. For dinner, opt for Cotton Row Restaurant, an upscale surf-and-turf establishment, or try Humphrey's Bar & Grill for traditional bar food. Thirsty for more? The city’s brewing scene is pouring over with Salty Nut Brewery, Straight to Ale, and Yellowhammer Brewery. 6. National Air and Space Museum of the Smithsonian Institution: Washington (Zhi Qi/Dreamstime) Centrally located on the National Mall, D.C.’s Air and Space Museum (airandspace.si.edu) takes flight with 22 exhibition galleries covering aviation, spaceflight, astronomy, and planetary science. In 2022, the museum will add to its roster with Destination Moon, which chronicles the race to the lunar landing. Craving more time with the cosmos? Take in a planetarium show or catch a movie on the museum’s five-story IMAX screen. Outside, the Phoebe Waterman Haas Public Observatory offers a closer look at the sun, planets, and double stars. A short walk or a free Southwest shuttle-bus ride will get you to the Wharf, a new and evolving entertainment destination on the Potomac River, and you'll also want to stop by the Washington National Cathedral to view the Space Window, a stained-glass symbol of our connection to the stars. Pro tip: To see the Discovery space shuttle, head across the river to the the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, the museum's companion facility, located 30 minutes away in Chantilly, Virginia. 7. Great Lakes Science Center: Cleveland (Daniel Hancock/Dreamstime) Home to the NASA Glenn Visitor Center, one of 11 in the United States, the Great Lakes Science Center (greatscience.com) goes in depth on how astronauts eat, sleep, and learn via its Living in Space exhibit. Peek inside the real-life 1973 Skylab 3 Apollo Command Module and go on a multi-media trip through significant moments in space history, take your photo in a spacesuit and see a moon rock along with artifacts from John Glenn’s February 20, 1962, Friendship 7 mission. (Later, you can experience another kind of rock at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame). The accomplishments of female scientists and astronauts take the spotlight at the International Women’s Air & Space Museum at Burke Lakefront Airport, an essential stop. For refreshments, the Terrestrial Brewing Company has stellar suds and food trucks. 8. Museum of Science and Industry: Chicago (Cmlndm/Dreamstime) From Sputnik to SpaceX, the Windy City’s Museum of Science and Industry (msichicago.org) goes into orbit with visual and virtual presentations on space. Its Henry Crown Space Center's Space Is the Place exhibit honors stories of exploration through artifacts and interactives: Hear tales recounting the missions that brought us to the moon, see the actual Apollo 8 module and the Aurora 7 capsule, and try a docking simulation in the walk-in mockup of the International Space Station. For an additional ticket fee, you can step into the role of an astronaut working outside the International Space Station via a VR Spacewalk ride. Near the museum, Hyde Park has lunch spots such as Jolly Pumpkin, a pizzeria and brewery; Medici on 57th,, with yummy Angus burgers, milkshakes, and baked croissants and pastries; and Piccolo Mondo, a white-tablecloth Italian eatery. Further north, near the Field Museum and Shedd Aquarium, the Adler Planetarium is all about astronomy. For travel inspiration, know-how, deals, and more, sign up for Budget Travel's free e-newsletter.
Europe's Coolest Cycling—and Wine Tasting—Tour
Terroir. Spend any time in one of the world's great wine-producing regions, whether it's Northern California's Napa Valley, Italy's Tuscany, or France's Loire Valley, and you'll eventually hear some version of this evocative term. Derived from the French word for "land," terroir officially refers to the combination of land and climate—the trees, the flowers, the rainfall, the soil itself—that produces a distinctive wine grape. (You may also hear the term used to describe varieties of cocoa and coffee beans and other products.) The best wine regions take terroir quite seriously. So seriously, in fact, that the names of wines—several hundred in France alone—are regulated so that, unless your grape is grown in a designated area, you can't just slap a name (or "appellation"), such as Côte du Rhône or Champagne, on your bottle. That's terroir in its literal, and commercial, sense. But I love how the term has also taken on a larger meaning, evoking the unique sense of place you experience when you immerse yourself in a destination. If the water running down from the mountains and the flowers that grow in the fields can affect the flavor of a grape, then certainly the personality of the people and the daily rhythms of work, food preparation, and leisure time can determine the flavor of a vacation. And in that sense, terroir is exactly what you get when you rent a bicycle in the charming French town of Saumur and embark on the Loire à Vélo, a cycling trail through the towns and forests, past châteaus and farmland, of one of the country's major wine regions. WHAT IS LA LOIRE Á VELO? (David Elliott/Dreamstime) La Loire à Vélo (it means literally "the Loire on a bicycle") is a one-of-a-kind cycling route that traverses more than 500 miles of the Loire Valley, attracting more than 800,000 cyclists each year. Still under construction, the route is literally growing by the kilometer to allow cyclists to explore the region at their own pace, hitting cities such as Nantes and Angers, and getting a taste of the land along the way at châteaus, in tiny villages, and in the dark, chilly, delicious tasting rooms of local wineries. More than a third of the Loire à Vélo consists of quiet roads that don't have much automobile traffic; nearly another third consists of green ways; and another third is closed to cars. Fully two-thirds of the route runs along the Loire River itself, and there are hundreds of spots for cyclists to stop. The Loire River Valley has been a popular cycling destination for years—it's just the kind of place that makes people want to feel the earth under their feet—or under their wheels. The Loire is often referred to as a "fairy tale" destination for its stunning, turreted châteaus (manor houses that were once home to nobility and other serious land owners, including French kings when they wanted to get out of Paris), beautiful forests, and not only the lovely Loire but also the Maine, Vienne, and Indre rivers. The central Loire Valley is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the entire valley has been nicknamed the Garden of France not only for the vineyards that grow the grapes for extraordinary wines but also for the rolling farmland that produces bushels of fresh cherries, artichokes, and asparagus. (For Loire à Vélo maps and detailed routes, plus updates on the growing trail, visit cycling-loire.com.) HOW TO CHOOSE THE RIGHT CYCLE (Ukrphoto/Dreamstime) Bicycle rental shops such as Detours de Loire, (detoursdeloire.com) a chain that has a shop in Saumur, are plentiful in the region and, depending on how you arrive in the Loire, may be the most convenient way to get geared up for your ride. Rental-shop owners will usually speak English, and you should let them know your level of skill (be honest—there's no point pretending you know what you're doing if that just translates into mayhem or injury on the trail), and if you have a preference for any particular kind of riding—such as all-terrain cycles, road bikes, or hybrids. A rented cycle should come with a tire pump and repair kit, a bell, properly working gears, and a place to hold a water bottle. If you'll be renting for more than one day, ask about multi-day discount rates. A half-day bike rental typically starts under $20. Another alternative is to bring your own bicycle—high-speed trains allow travelers to zoom from Paris to the city of Angers in about 90 minutes, and local trains link the major towns and cities along the Loire à Vélo, including Orléans, Blois, Tours, Saumur, Angers, Nantes, Saint-Nazaire, and others. Cycling brings hundreds of thousands of visitors to the Loire each year, and local trains are equipped with ample storage space for cycles. SAVOR THE TOWN OF SAUMUR Besides the great service you'll get if you rent a bike at Saumur's Detours de Loire, the town is also a great place to base yourself for a few days. It happens to be the headquarters of the French national riding academy, produces 100,000 tons of mushrooms each year, and the nearby winery area, Saumur-Champigny, produces tasty Cabernet Franc (the basis of many popular red wines) and tasty white Chenin Blanc. (Due to the Loire Valley's cool climate, not only the white wines of the region but also the reds tend to be on the pleasantly crisp side.) Be sure to park your bike outside a unique restaurant, Bistroglo (bistroglo.com), and enjoy the wines—and the mushrooms—of the area at this bar/bistro that has been literally carved out of the limestone cliffs in nearby Turquant. (The caves of the Loire serve as underground mushroom farms and the perfect place for aging wine casks, helping to impart a certain je ne sais pas to the wine's taste.) When you're ready to take to the trail, head east—Château du Petit Thouars is an hour's leisurely ride from Saumur and you will pedal through the pretty villages of Candes-Saint-Martin and Montsoreau on the way. When you arrive at Château du Petit Thouars, (chateaudptwines.com) in Saint-Germain-sur-Vienne, get ready to spit. In the wine-tasting room, that is. The château has produced award-winning Cabernet Francs and welcomes visitors Tuesdays to Saturdays for wine tastings. If you haven't quite gotten that sense of terroir when you first stepped into Detours de Loire to rent your bike, by now the grapes, the mushrooms, and the limestone cliffs should have put you well on the way to understanding that "sense of place" that has been drawing people to the Loire for centuries. HOW TO TASTE TERROIR As we've seen in Napa and other U.S. wine regions, the notion of establishing a great restaurant inside a winery has caught on in a big way. Think of it as "Ask not what wine will go best with my food, but what food will go best with my wine." One of the Loire's most noteworthy—and worth a $55 splurge—is chef David Guitton's La Table de la Bergerie (latable-bergerie.fr) at the Domaine de la Bergerie Yves Guegniard winery, in Champ-sur-Layon. With house-made ravioli, a fish of the day, and reds and whites from the winery, this is a meal you'll talk about when you get back home. EXPLORE THE TOWN OF ANGERS If wetting your whistle at wineries proves, well, intoxicating, pedal over to the Museum of Wine Growers and Wine of Anjou, in Angers, on the western edge of the Loire Valley. Here, you'll learn the history of the region, its vinocultural practices, and view exhibits of vineyard tools. Anjou is a wine subregion of the Loire that includes Saumur's red wines. ("No, I'm not guzzling more wine—I'm going to a museum!") Angers, a city of more than 250,000 with more than 30,000 students, has a much livelier vibe than some of its quiet Loire neighbors. If you crave nightlife, head to Place du Ralliement or Rue St.-Laud for a hoppin' bar and cafe scene. Angers is pleasantly placed on either side of the Maine River, with a major château dominating its historic center, where the "Apocalypse Tapestry," depicting the revelation of St. John, is on display. The tapestry, one of the most ambitious and accomplished of its kind, was lost during the 18th century but recovered and restored in the 19th. The Cathedrale Saint-Maurice d'Angers, also known simply as Angers Cathedral, built in the 12th and 13th centuries, is known for its stained glass windows, one of which includes an unusual portrayal of St. Christopher with the head of a dog. The "Apocalypse Tapestries" resided at the cathedral before their disappearance and partial destruction. PACE YOURSELF While the awesome trails and relative peace and quiet of the roadways may tempt you to turn your trek across the Loire into a road race, we respectfully suggest that you take your time. Linger at a comfortable hotel, like Le Clos des 3 Rois (closdes3rois.fr) in Thouarcé. Linger at the wineries to ask questions (and maybe get the kind of behind-the-scenes tours that aren't on the agenda), and don't measure your vacation in miles. Though you may arrive in the Loire with visions of the Tour de France, you may find yourself remembering humble—and more meaningful—details. Like the way the evening light plays over the surface of the Loire. The gentle arches of the Pont du Verdun. The unique aroma of an underground mushroom farm. And when those details—along with the feel of the breeze in your hair and the thrill of pedaling your way through France—come back to you, you'll remember the word: terroir. HOW TO GET THERE The Loire River Valley is in western France. A high-speed train from Paris to Angers takes about 90-minutes (raileurope.com). BOOK A CYCLING TOUR Biking France offers Loire à Vélo package tours that include accommodations in two- and three-star hotels, complimentary breakfasts, bike and equipment rental, and luggage transfer. Package tours include a six-day trip from Orléans to Tours, a seven-day trip from Saumur to the Atlantic coast, and four days in the Loire's château country, all reasonably priced (often well under $1,000).
Recreational Vehicle Rental Tips for RV Rookies
Most of us have dreamed about it. Some of us have already given it a try and loved it. Hitting the open road in a recreational vehicle (RV) can provide a unique combination of comfort, thrills, practicality, and affordability. But, like most of us, you probably have questions before taking that first step into the driver’s seat of an RV. I spoke with Megan Buemi, Sr. Content Marketing Manager at RVShare, the first and largest peer-to-peer RV rental marketplace (sort of like Airbnb for RVs), for her tips for “RV rookies,” plus some suggested destinations and itineraries. Our suggestion? Read Megan’s tips, then get ready to hit the road! What’s the best way to start planning an RV rental? Choose a route, then an RV? Or vice versa? Megan Buemi: When it comes to beginning your RV travel plans it can sometimes feel like what comes first, the chicken or the egg - should you book your RV or your campground first? We like to recommend booking your RV first so that you can find the perfect option for you and your travel companions, whether you need a larger Class C for the whole family, or a small pop up camper for a romantic weekend getaway. Then you can find a campground that will accommodate your RV type, including the right hookups and available amps. We do suggest booking your campground as soon after your RV as possible, especially in the busy spring and summer months or if you plan to visit a popular location, like a national park. What's the biggest mistake an RV rookie makes in planning a trip? MB: The biggest mistake you can make when it comes to renting an RV for the first time is being unprepared. This encompasses several things: not having a budget, not having a destination/campground planned, and not learning about the RV or asking the owner questions before you take off. RV trips can be fun and sporadic, but if you don’t plan ahead you might miss out on some of the best parts. For example, no one wants to waste time searching for a new campground because the one you arrived at is all booked up! Keep in mind all of the extra costs, such as gas and generator usage, campgrounds, and food. Book your campground in advance and don’t hesitate to ask the owner questions and read any user manuals they provide you thoroughly. Being prepared will make it much easier to enjoy your trip stress-free! Are there any RV models that are especially well-suited to the beginner? MB: Choosing the model of RV you wish to drive is all about your comfort level. Many people are surprised to learn there is no special license required to drive an RV, even the big Class A’s. The most popular option is a Class C. They are spacious and provide the comforts of home, and are easier to maneuver. But if you wish to have your own vehicle on hand and tow a trailer instead, there are also a variety of options there, from a small popup camper that can be towed by ordinary passenger vehicles, to 5th wheels that typically need to be hooked up to a truck. If driving an RV at all makes you uncomfortable, RVshare has many RVs available that can be delivered to your destination, all you have to do is show up! How much time does it take to learn to drive an RV or trailer RV? MB: You’ll be on the road in no time in your RV or trailer rental. The owner of the vehicle will happily give you a walkthrough and any advice on driving their vehicle. If you are apprehensive, you can practice a bit in a parking lot, but once you hit the road you’ll be surprised that it’s not nearly as difficult to drive as you thought. Do you have any packing advice for an RV trip? MB: Before you start loading up your suitcase with linens and silverware, read the RV rental’s listing closely. Many owners will provide you with some basic items, saving you from having to pack extra. But if they don’t, plan on needing bedding, towels, cooking utensils and cutlery, clothes for all weather types (check the weather before you go - part of being prepared), a first aid kit, toiletries, outdoor gear, and food. Cooking on your RV is a major cost saving perk to RV travel! What advice do you have about hook-ups? MB: The hookups you’ll be looking for include water, power, and sewer. These all may or may not be available, depending on what kind of park you’re staying at. For example, privately-owned, resort-style campgrounds usually offer the full suite, while public campgrounds may offer some, but not all amenities, or only offer 30 amps of power (as opposed to the 50 amps a large Class A motorhome might draw). With this in mind, it is always a good idea to check with the campground to see what hookups they have available, and most of them will indicate it on their websites as well. What kinds of destinations are ideal for RV rookies? MB: Planning your first RV trip is exciting, but many people aren’t sure where to go. Luckily there are all kinds of easily accessible places across the country, perfect for your first RV adventure. A few of our favorites include: National Parks. We love the national parks so much, we created guides on traveling to them. Many offer RV accommodations but some are not accessible by RV, so do your research first. You can park your RV and enjoy the day hiking, swimming, and exploring, with a campfire and a nice comfy bed to return to once night falls. Southern Charm. Try connecting a few popular southern cities, each offering its own unique brand of charm: Savannah, Georgia; Charleston, South Carolina; and St. Augustine, Florida. Plus these states offer plenty of RV campgrounds. California’s Pacific Coast Highway. Whether you start in Eureka (way up north) or San Diego (at the border with Mexico), you’ll be treated to some of the most beautiful byways in the country — a crashing ocean on one side and majestic redwoods on the other. Potential stops include Los Angeles, San Francisco, Monterey, Carmel-by-the-Sea, San Luis Obispo, and a whole host of others.
'Rails to Trails' Near You: 6 Beautiful Paths That Used to Be Railroad Tracks
Gone are the days when the U.S. was latticed with an extensive railroad network that connected communities big and small, and spurred their vitality. As air and car travel largely replaced the train, thousands of miles of tracks laid derelict and weed-choked. Yet, the demise of train travel brought an opportunity to convert some of these disused railroad corridors to scenic, multi-use paths (rails-trails) for human-powered activities, especially cycling. These paths not only reinvigorate communities and local businesses, but they also protect wetlands, forests, and other natural resources; and provide a safe path for commuting, fitness, communing with nature, and learning about the region’s culture and history. These six rails-trails are among the best in the U.S., each with a different personality, providing you with anything from a short jaunt to a long-distance adventure. 1. Withlacoochee State Trail, Florida Just an hour or so from either Tampa or Orlando, the midpoint of this 46-mile paved trail, historic Floral City, is where the Seminole Tribe established a village in the early 1800s. This path, part of Florida's extensive state park system, feels worlds apart from the state’s theme and water parks. The more serene southern section wends to the wee community of Trilby, winding through Withlacoochee State Forest with its grand cypress trees dripping with epiphytes. Wildlife sightings, from gopher tortoises to opossums, are abundant along the entire route, and the foliage is diverse, including magnolia and sweet gum. Pack your rod and try angling for largemouth bass or bluegill in either the Withlacoochee River or Lake Townsen. (floridastateparks.org) 2. George S. Mickelson Trail, South Dakota Wandering through the Black Hills from Deadwood to Edgemont, this 109-mile trail is named for the South Dakota governor who supported the conversion of the scenic railroad corridor to a rail-trail. Along the dirt and crushed stone path, cyclists find abandoned gold mines and other reminders of the area’s boom-and-bust period. With woodlands of spruce and ponderosa pines blanketing the slopes, and mountain meadows sprinkled with lavender, black-eyed Susans and other blooms, the 32-mile portion from Hill City to Dumont is especially picturesque. Stop in Rochford, a once-thriving mining town, where the Moonshine Gulch Saloon is a popular stop for beer and burgers. (gfpo.sd.gov/parks) 3. Paul Bunyan State Trail, Minnesota As you pedal past almost two dozen lakes on the 123-mile Paul Bunyan State Trail, Minnesota’s moniker, “Land of 10,000 Lakes,” seems apt. Running from Lake Bemidji State Park in Bemidji to Crow Wing State Park in Brainerd, a former railroad town, this paved rail-trail is named for the mythical lumberjack whose giant footprints and those of Babe, his blue ox, created Minnesota’s lakes. (Their statues are on display in Bemidji.) With various towns popping up every five to nine miles or so, you can ride almost anywhere and find a quirky vibe. The town of Nisswa holds turtle races each summer. (paulbunyantrail.com) 4. New River Trail State Park, Virginia Huddled in southwest Virginia in the Blue Ridge Mountains, this almost 58-mile crushed stone rail-trail mostly follows the New River through a bucolic landscape of woodland, farm fields, narrow valleys, and rounded peaks. Many cyclists start mid-trail at the park’s headquarters in Foster Falls, a town that grew during the iron industry. (A 19th century iron furnace bears testament to that era.). Music buffs may, instead, want to start in Galax that’s nicknamed the “World Capital of Old Time Mountain Music.” Birdwatchers should keep their binoculars at the ready. Dozens of species, such as red-bellied woodpeckers and eastern kingbirds, have been spotted along the route. (dcr.virginia.gov/state-parks) 5. Rio Grande Trail, Colorado Paralleling the Roaring Fork River, Colorado’s longest rail-trail meanders from Aspen through Carbondale to Glenwood Springs, famed for its geothermal waters. The 42-mile-long, mostly paved stretch features the best of the state’s scenery: soaring peaks, stands of aspen, ranch lands, dry sagebrush, and conifer forests. You’ll have opportunities to spot deer, elk, and even black bear. Great blue herons, belted kingfishers and other birds are attracted to this corridor for its proximity to the river. Popular stops include the Woody Creek Tavern, the former hangout of journalist Hunter S. Thompson; Basalt that’s noted for its trout fishing; and the serene Rock Bottom Ranch, an ideal spot for picnicking and bird watching. (rfta.com/trail-information) 6. Bizz Johnson National Recreation Trail, California Taking its name from former Congressman Harold T. “Bizz” Johnson, who was instrumental in this rail-trail conversion, the 25-mile route from Mason Station near Westwood to Susanville is mostly dominated by the dramatic landscape of the Susan River Canyon. Cycling on packed gravel, you’ll crisscross the river numerous times on trestles and bridges, veering into evergreen-dense Lassen National Forest. In Susanville, stop at the circa 1927 railroad depot that serves as a visitor’s center with historical information on the railroad and the area’s logging industry. This is also the site of the annual Rails to Trails Festival where -- on October 12, 2019 -- you can enjoy the salsa competition and chili cook-off. (blm.gov/visit/bizz-johnson)