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Traveling

Stories about part-time traveling with a full-time job, including planning tips, itineraries, reviews, and recaps from Meg Runs The World, a travel and running blog written by Meg Roberts.

Kayaking in Crystal River, Florida: The Search for Manatees

Growing up in Florida, I tend to take for granted the natural beauty my home state has to offer. Though I love traveling to new places around the world, I’m trying to do more exploring closer to home. That’s why my boyfriend and I headed 90 minutes north of Tampa to kayak in Crystal River this past weekend in celebration of my 30th birthday.

Well, technically, we planned to kayak in Weeki Wachee. But, Weeki Wachee has gotten quite popular since we were kids, and it seems you now need to make reservations in advance. We arrived around 10:30 AM and all the rental shops were already sold out of kayaks for the day.

After I had a quick cry in the car over our foiled plans (it’s my birthday and I can cry if I want to!), we began improvising. Where to next? In this area of Florida, there are quite a few natural springs and state parks. We tossed around several ideas, and decided that nearby Crystal River would be our best chance for kayaking and seeing manatees.

Another 30 minutes of driving north took us to Captain Mike’s where we rented a tandem kayak for $55. No reservations required (or taken!).

Captain Mike's Kayak and Bike Rentals in Crystal River, Florida
Captain Mike’s Rentals in Crystal River, Florida

The good people at Captain Mike’s take wildlife preservation seriously, and before you can get out on the water, you have to watch a 7-minute video that tells you what you can and can’t do if you encounter manatees.

Finally on the water, we battled the wind, current, and a slew of pontoon boats to get to a small channel that led us to Three Sisters Springs. Approaching the spring, we saw a mama manatee and her calf gliding through the canal. The water became clearer and clearer the closer we got to the springs.

We paddled into the springs and saw it wasn’t too crowded despite it being a Saturday with perfect weather. Apparently, there are times when you can swim into the springs and see dozens of manatees. We didn’t have that much luck, but it is still a breathtaking place. Since it was a little chilly outside, we stayed in our little yellow kayak to take in the views.

Three Sisters Springs in Crystal River, Florida
Three Sisters Springs in Crystal River, Florida
Clear blue water three sisters springs crystal river florida
Water so blue I promise it’s not a pool

Kayaking crystal river florida

We spent a couple of hours kayaking around the springs and up and down a few nearby canals trying to find more manatees. We knew we were at the tail end of the season, which runs from November through early April, but we’d heard there were quite a few manatees still in the area.

Feeling a bit tired after three hours of paddling against the current, we decided to head back to Captain Mikes. Once we were back in open water, we made a ton of new friends of the sea-cow variety.

This big guy kept coming up to us to see what we were up to even though we were trying to leave him alone.

manatee crystal river
Manatee in Crystal River

It was so much fun spotting these gentle creatures, and now I hope to do it more often during the next winter. Visit Florida has a great article with 5 places to see manatees around the state, so all these spots have quickly made their way on my “Florida Bucket List.” That should keep me from taking this wonderful place for granted.

A guide to kayaking in Crystal River, Florida and Three Sisters Springs with tips on the best times to see manatees.

 

Where are your favorite places to go for a staycation?

 

6 Day Iceland Itinerary: Time to Road Trip!

This is a series focusing only on itineraries— you won’t find recaps or in-depth stories here (I’ll link to any that I write about, of course!), just a list of what I did and where I went to help inspire anyone who might be planning a similar trip.

6 Day Iceland Itinerary

Last year, a good friend of mine from college and I decided, on a whim, to visit Europe over the summer. When we found a good flight deal to Reykjavik, we jumped at the chance to spend a week driving around the island, even though we’d originally thought we’d headed to places like London or Paris or Amsterdam.

Neither of us knew a lot about Iceland, and none of our friends had been.  We started planning our trip from scratch, relying heavily on Pinterest, Google, and Lonely Planet. A lot of the information we found focused on slow travel, but we had limited time and wanted to see more of the country than many of the itineraries listed.

The good thing about visiting Iceland in July is that we had nearly 23 hours of daylight to work with, allowing us to fit a lot more into our trip than if the days had been shorter.

I included what we did below, and it’s pretty fast-paced. This style of travel is not for everyone but it worked out great for us. As part-time travelers with limited vacation time, we got to see a lot, and still had time to hike, explore, and take in the natural beauty of some of the most stunning landscapes I’ve seen.

A 6-day itinerary for a road trip around Iceland, including tips for places to see and things to do.

DAY 1: KEFLAVIK, BLUE LAGOON, REYKJAVIK 

Iceland Blue Lagoon Meg Runs The World
Iceland’s Blue Lagoon

DAY 2: SOUTH COAST DRIVE

  • Leave Reykjavik and head to Seljalandsfoss & Gljúfurárfoss waterfalls
  • Hike to Seljavallalaug Pool (this post has a great map to help you find this natural spring)
    • Bring a swimsuit and towel as the pool has facilities you can use to change. We spent about 2 hours here between the hike there and back and the swim.
  • See Skógafoss & Kvernufoss (you’ll also be able to see the Turf Houses at Skogar Museum)
    • To get to Kvernufoss, enter Skógar from the N1 and instead of turning left to Skógafoss, keep straight. At the end of the road, you’ll see the Hotel Edda. Turn right toward the Skógar Folk Museum. Keep driving until you get to a sheep fence. Leave your car here. Behind the last museum building, close to the hillside, you’ll see a small, slightly sketchy ladder that will get you over the fence. Now, you have a fairly easy 15-minute hike to this secret waterfall. There is a slight rock scramble, but I was able to do it in running shoes. This fantastic post is how I discovered this isolated spot. 
  • Dyrhólaey Headland Natural Reserve to spot puffins (during the summer months, only)
  • Black sand beach at the Reynisdrangar Pinnacles in Vík
  • Overnight: Hotel Edda Vík
Seljavallalaug Natural Pool Iceland
Seljavallalaug Pool

DAY 3: JOKULSARLON GLACIER

  • Drive to Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon (Leave early and drive straight to Jökulsárlón with stop at Fjallsárlón Glacial Lagoon)
  • Take a boat tour of the Lagoon and visit the beach across the street to see icebergs on the sand
  • Backtrack to Selfoss: Hike in Skaftafell National Park to Svartifoss Waterfall
  • Spot Foss á Síðu Waterfall from the road
  • Hike in Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon:
    • There are signs advertising the canyon, but they are not large or obvious. Take the 206 road to Lakagigar (locals call it the Laki Road), and drive just past the Hunkubakkar guesthouse. When you get to the canyon, you’ll see a sign advertising your arrival and a bridge that crosses the river.
  • View Eldhraun Lava Field along the drive
  • Overnight: Geirakot Farm in Selfoss Area via Icelandic Farm Holidays

Note: If we didn’t have 23-hours of daylight, it’s unlikely we would have been able to accomplish as much as we did this day—we didn’t get to our farm house in Selfoss until 11:30 PM. I recommend breaking this drive into two days or trying to stay a little south of Vík. 

Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon Iceland
Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon

 

Reynisdrangar Pinnacles Dyrhólaey Black Sand Beach Iceland Vik
Reynisdrangar Pinnacles and Black Sand Beach Near Vik

DAY 4: THE GOLDEN CIRCLE 

Iceland Horses Golden Circle Iceland
Icelandic Horses Along the Golden Circle

DAY 5: SNAEFELLSNES PENINSULA

Church on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula
Church on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula
Cliffs Snaefellsnes Peninsula Iceland
Snaefellsnes Peninsula

Note: I loved, loved, loved this day. The Snaefellsnes Peninsula, or the Snuffaluffagus Peninsula as I called it because Icelandic words are HARD to say, is often referred to as “Iceland in miniature” and it’s easy to see why: jagged coastlines, black & gold sand beaches, mountain peaks, lava fields, hot springs; you could easily spend all of your time in Iceland here. In fact, I highly suggest spending more than one day on the Peninsula. While we did almost everything we wanted in one day, we felt a bit rushed toward the end. 

DAY 6: SAY GOODBYE TO ICELAND 

  • Leave from Keflavik Airport around 9 AM knowing you already want to come back to Iceland one day soon.

A 6-day itinerary for a road trip around Iceland, including tips for places to see and things to do.

What are your tips for an amazing Iceland road trip? Or, is Iceland on your Travel Bucket List?

 

 

5 Day Itinerary for San Francisco and Big Sur

Here’s a confession: I love creating itineraries. It’s a sickness. Trust me, you don’t want to see the “Travel” folder in my Google Drive. So. Many. Itineraries. 

In my past life, I bet I hit it big as the World’s Best Cruise Director because planning is my jam.

Here in my current life, I’ve yet to make a career out of being an Itinerary Planner Extraordinaire.

That doesn’t stop me from searching Google, TripAdvisor, and Pinterest for other people’s itineraries when I’m attempting to come up with my own. I like to see how other travelers grouped together various activities, what places they visited and when, and what they recommend doing.

This puzzle-like process helps me figure out how I can make my trip plan the best it can be.

Type A much?

Digital Itinerary Planning

 

Given my fervor for developing itineraries, I’ve gained quite the reputation among my friends and colleagues for this, er, hobby. When people ask me to share past trip plans with them, it gives me a chance to dig back into past travels, and my itineraries allow me to reflect on memories from past experiences.

This will be my first post in a new series that focuses ONLY on itineraries— no recaps or stories (I’ll link to any that I write about, of course!), just a list of what I did and where I went to help anyone who might be planning a similar trip.

Earlier this month, I traveled to San Francisco with my boyfriend to visit my best friend. Since we’ve both been to SF a couple of times, we weren’t overly concerned with doing all the tourist activities in the city. We spent a lot more time wandering around that I’d do if I were visiting for the first time. But, if you’ve been to San Francisco before, here’s an idea on how to get another look at this beautiful city.

Our 5 Day San Francisco and Big Sur Itinerary

DAY 1: TAMPA > SAN FRANCISCO: LOWER HAIGHT, PRESIDIO, MARINA

  • Arrive SF around 11 AM
  • Lunch at Palmyra Mediterranean Cafe in the Lower Haight
  • Walk to Alamo Square to see the Painted Ladies of Full House fame
  • Take Uber to the Presidio: LucasFilms Studio & the Yoda Fountain, Palace of Fine Arts
  • Walk to Pier 39 via Fort Mason (this was a bit of a walk, about 2.5 miles;  if you’re not feeling up for a lengthy trek, I recommend catching the free Presidigo shuttle!)
  • Take Uber to Ferry Building Marketplace: my favorites are Blue Bottle Coffee, cheese at Cowgirl Creamery, ice cream from Humphry Slocombe
  • Dinner at Umami Sushi in the Marina
  • Overnight at a friend’s place in the Lower Haight

Palace of Fine Arts Presidio San Francisco

DAY 2: SAN FRANCISCO: 16th AVENUE MOSAIC STAIRS, BAKER BEACH, NORTH BEACH

  • 5 mile run in Golden Gate Park
  • Coffee and breakfast at The Grind on Haight St.
  • Bus from Lower Haight to Moraga St. to see 16th Avenue Tiled Steps
  • Climb all the stairs to Grand View Park (this is an intense climb; I was huffing & puffing by the end!)
  • Take an Uber to Baker Beach near the Presidio
  • Dinner at Original Joe’s in North Beach (even though this is an Italian restaurant, I had the best and biggest burger I’ve ever had here)
  • Overnight at a friend’s place in the Lower Haight

View of Golden Gate Bridge from Baker Beach San Francisco

Grand View Park San Francisco

DAY 3: SF > MONTEREY: PACIFIC GROVE, 17 MILE DRIVE, CARMEL 

  • Breakfast in the Marina District of SF at the adorable Rose’s Cafe
  • Uber to SFO airport to pick up rental car
  • Drive to Airbnb in Pacific Grove (I highly recommend this Airbnb that we stayed in during our trip! It’s perfect for 3-4 adults, is well-decorated with an outdoor patio, and is within walking distance to the Monterey Bay Recreation Trail and the Monterey Aquarium)
  • Do 17 Mile Drive (there’s a $10 entry fee, but it’s so worth it!)
  • Stop in Carmel for dinner at Flying Fish (Please make a reservation and eat here. This is the best seafood I’ve ever had, and I grew up in Florida. I’m still dreaming about the ginger salsa appetizer and almond-encrusted sea bass weeks later!)

DAY 4: BIG SUR 

DAY 5: MONTEREY > SF: MONTEREY AQUARIUM, SANTA CRUZ, SAN FRANCISCO

  • 3 mile run on the Monterey Bay Recreation Trail because I couldn’t get enough of these views the day before
  • Breakfast at First Awakenings near the Monterey Aquarium
  • Monterey Aquarium (our Airbnb came with 2 free passes, which made this a worthwhile 2-hour adventure)
  • Coffee & shopping at Bright Coffee on our way out of Monterey
  • Drive from Monterey to Santa Cruz
  • Late lunch in downtown Santa Cruz
  • Drop rental car off at airport
  • Redeye flight back to Tampa

Monterey Bay Aquarium Jelly Fish

Are San Francisco and Big Sur on your travel bucket list? Have you been before and have recommendations to share in the comments?