Staying at the Banning House Lodge in Catalina Island, California is a mystery, as far as internet research goes. An archaic website was all I had as reference prior to our stay. Even the booking site reminded me of the 1990’s. It is such a shame. The Banning House has now become one of my favorite getaway spots. It is appropriately isolated. The beautiful home has a great view perched atop a hill. The vibe is truly relaxing and the history of the house really transported me to a place back in time – one without the rush of technology and progress. I thought I’d share everything one needs to know about staying at the Banning House. Just so the interwebs can have a taste of this great vacay spot.
History on the Banning House Lodge
The craftsman-style house was built by the Banning brothers in 1910, who owned Catalina Island since 1892. It was their summer home and they hosted soirees, dinner parties, and celebrations on their large property. It took two days to get to their summer home from Avalon. The Santa Catalina Island Company was created to attract visitors to their summer house.
In the early 1919 they sold the Island (and eventually the Santa Catalina Island Company) to William Wrigley Jr, known for Wrigley gum. Over the years, the Lodge served as the U.S. Coast Guard officer’s quarters during WWII, as a private girls camp in the late 1950’s, a hunting lodge, and as employee housing. Today, the Banning House is a twelve room bed and breakfast with a historic and warm feel and beautiful panoramic views of Two Harbors.
Getting to Banning House
The Banning House lies on the Northern end of Catalina Island. It is the only bookable stay, aside from campgrounds. To get to Banning House, one must take a boat ride to Two Harbors. The only straight shot from the coast of California is from the San Pedro Harbor. Other harbors go to Avalon on the south side of the island first, before landing on the north end. A direct boat ride takes a little over hours, while pitstops in Avalon turns it into two.
About Two Harbors
The northern part of the island is quite deserted. It’s a hiker’s paradise, with a third of the Trans-Catalina Trail starting and ending at Two Harbors in a loop. The coastline is dotted with isolated beaches, summer camps for kids, and a Boy Scouts campground. In the ‘town’ of Two Harbors, there is only one restaurant, which serves lunch and dinner. A gift shop, however, had all the foods one would need, including ice cream. There is also a rental company from which to rent kayaks, SUPs, and bikes. Summer weekends typically have live weekends and the boats from Avalon arrive at Two Harbors around 11am. My recommendation is to get your rentals as early as 9am when they open, to avoid the crowds. Then again, lunch time at the restaurant is quite fun as people dance to the live music.
What to Expect at the Stay
The Banning house sits atop a hill. A shuttle will be there to welcome you as you disembark from the boat. They will offer you and your bags a ride to the top. However, the walk isn’t far. Ten minutes is all it takes to get to the check-in door. Check-in is at 4pm and check-out is at 12 noon.
The kind staff will give you a tour of the house’s amenities upon arrival. A wrap-around porch gives scenic views of both harbors. Rickety rattan porch furniture immediately imbue the right mood. This is a place for relaxation. When we landed, current guests were just sitting on the porch looking at the view. There were no laptops or cell phones to be found. Limbs were strewn over the arms of rocking chairs, feet were propped up on glass tables. Most had coffee in hand, a father and son were playing a game of chess, and others were reading books.
There is a common indoor space which also has sweeping views of the two harbors on either side. Walking into it smells like walking into grandma’s house. Actually, it felt like stepping back in time. Bison and deer heads lined the walls, firewood sat next to the fireplace and an old cob-webbed piano sits in a corner. There is a sun-room, and shelves lined with puzzles and traditional boardgames. A few soft cover books with bent spines and yellowing pages can also be found. This isn’t a fancy place, but it’s nothing short of romantic.
The rooms are also of a similar tune. The beds are a bit on the lumpy side, the wardrobe doors creak as you open them, and the curtains remind me of lace doilies. There are two chairs by the window sill with a small foot stool. A mini fridge is found in the room, along with a full bathroom. The shower spews hot water with decent pressure. The simple appointments are really humbling. It reminds me of my youth, when times were simpler and a vacation really meant idleness.
Perhaps one of our favorite parts about the stay are the complimentary meals. Every morning the Banning House hosts breakfast. Unlimited cereal, fruit, toast, muffins, yogurt, hard-boiled eggs, cheese and ham make up the full line-up. Three juices, coffee and tea are also served. I loved waking up whenever my body told me to and slowly making my way to the breakfast bar. We literally sat on the porch looking out onto the water eating our breakfast for an hour. Then we would bring a book to our table and spend another two hours reading, looking out, and occasionally talking about whatever entered our minds.
Every afternoon, there would be wine hour from 5-6pm. Each person got two (very full) glasses of wine. You could choose from two Reds or a White. There would also be crackers, cheese, cured meats and honey. After a long day of hiking, we really looked forward to these wine hours. Exhausted from being in the sun all afternoon, we would unwind during this hour, before walking into the town restaurant for dinner.
Why I like staying at the Banning House
The Banning House is a surreal place. I love it for it’s ability to isolate. I mean, it IS on a deserted piece of island! Sitting atop the hill, it gives a bird’s-eye view of the world below. I have a different perspective when I am in a higher up location, which may be why I love hiking mountain-scapes. Things just make more sense at high altitudes. I can see, think, and feel more clearly. Plus the sound of ocean waves, sea birds, and breezy winds can’t be beat.
I also love it for its historic charm. Nothing about the home is modern, which means nothing about it makes me yearn for progress. It really gets me to slow down – quite a difficult feat. Usually, our vacations are laden with places to see, things to do, and foods to eat. This was different. Since the island had very few facts online about what the stay was going to be like, I made zero plans. I thought perhaps we could hike every day, but after tiring ourselves out with a 14-mile trek on day one, we pivoted and lounged all of day two.
Unlike other vacations which are strewn with schedules and timelines, there was no stress associated with this vacation. We just did whatever we felt like at that moment. I felt like a different person altogether. It reminded me of when my parents used to vacation in the Philippines. They laid about on the beach, went nowhere, ate snacks and drank beer. Their idea of a vacation was to eat dried mangoes and to sleep. That same simplicity is associated with this place. Perhaps that’s why it’s so special to me.
Who would like this stay
I definitely recommend this stay for young busybodies needing a break from incessant demands of modern life. The elderly will appreciate this quiet space. Parents looking for respite will find it here. Even families would love this place. During our stay, there was a multi-generational family staying with two grandparents, two parents and two kids younger than 8 years old. They went on hikes and had mealtimes together. I saw another family with two kids younger than five. They loved to throw rocks at the beach and swim in the ocean. And I saw a family with two teens. The son played chess with his dad at breakfast, the daughter told her mom about what she read in her book. It truly is a special place.
Summer season is just around the bend (can you believe it’s May?!?) and people are starting to pack their travel bags. After two years of disruption and uncertainty, we are slowly easing into travel again. Confining travel to the summer months could become the new norm, since winter is tainted with the edict of flu season. We, ourselves, did all of our international travels in the summer of last year, having met up with my sister in Iceland and Spain. Then we holed up during the winter months, exploring only our home state, California. In light of upcoming travels, I thought I would dedicate this month’s play pretend post to everything one needs for easy packing and stressfree travel.
Despite simplicity, there is an argument for adding items to your journey that make it better. The trick, in my opinion, is counting tidbits for self-care essential. Self-care can instill a sense of peace in the same way simplicity can. And peace is joyful. Joy is the natural antidote to stress and is a famous tranquilizer of the nervous system. Keep it simple, yes, but take aboard the micro-comforts. Here are my current favorites.
Seeing puffins in Iceland is a must-do! When we went on our 14-day trip to Iceland, my sister insisted that join her at the Western-most coast for a puffin viewing. Even though it was a bit out of our way, it was well worth it! Seeing puffins in person was the coolest thing we did in Iceland. Once you lay eyes on these cute, tiny birds with their bright, orange-red round beaks and darling eyes you will be thankful you made time for this awesome experience. But finding out how to see them was a bit tough. Which is why I thought I would share where, when, and how to see puffins in Iceland.
There are many places to see puffins. Even from Iceland’s capital, Reykjavik, there are two small islands only a half-mile’s boat ride away, and ferry tours leave from the city. In the Southern region are the Westman Islands which house one-fifth of all the world’s puffins. This location houses most of the puffins in Iceland, but it is 6 miles out from the southern tip of Iceland. It requires either a ferry ride from Landejahofn or Seljalansfoss. Alternatively, you can take a domestic flight to Westman Islands from Reykjavik. Out east, they say the un-inhabitated Papey Island also houses puffins, but as our journey did not take us east, that was unfortunately out of the question for us.
The last location, Latrabarg cliffs, was the one we ended up going to. It was my sister who planned the entire thing, but I think she made a great call. We wanted to see puffins in their natural habitats on our own time. We wanted to see them up close, not on a boat but on the ground, like explorers looking into their world from ours. The experience was more ideal as very few tourists venture out to Latrabarg cliffs. We even had the cliffs to ourselves higher up the hike, where we spent a few hours hiking and searching for diving birds.
The Latrabarg cliffs provide a peaceful way to see puffins in Iceland. These dramatic drops stretch for 8-miles and fall steeply into the water 1,447 feet below. No wonder the birds like these cliffs, as they dive in and out of their little burrows. There is a mild rope that spans the cliffs, but it is at ankle length and will not stop anyone from falling to their doom. It was a subtle reminder of safety, but I appreciated that it still allowed us to get up close and personal to the puffins sitting on the cliff’s edge.
Be forewarned that the cliff’s edges are not always made of dense earth. Birds like to make burrows there which mean that the grass you’re about to step on may be hollowed out and could fall under your weight. It is best to get on your stomach, hands and knees and crawl to the cliff’s edge if you want to really take that up-close photograph or look. Better yet to have someone on solid ground holding on to your feet, or avoid the risk altogether. Plus, you wouldn’t want to crush these bird’s homes!
This is definitely not the safest place for young children who like to run wild. But it IS an intimate place for adults to view puffins, so long as you don’t get too close to the edge. I highly recommend making the trek, as this was the coolest experience we did while in Iceland!
How to Get to Latrabarg Cliffs
There are two ways to get to Latrabarg Cliffs from Reykjavik. The first is to make the drive from Reykjavik. You can start westward on Ring Road and turn on the 60, heading towards the Westfjords. The entire drive takes 6 hours one-way. Hardly anyone makes the trip west of Ring Road, which is a shame as I found it to be a gorgeous place. It is especially great for introverts because it feels like having the country all to yourself.
On the west you’ll find Snaefellsnes National Park, voted the most romantic winter get-away spot in Europe. We spent a few days there, hiking Anastarpi to Hellnar, another cliff teeming with birds. But in order to see puffins, you need to go further North. You can take the HWY 54 to get to Snaefellsnes. Go to the small fishing village called Stykkisholmur, and there are ferries that take visitors across the Westfjords. This will cut your time to Latrabarg as you don’t have to drive around the fjord.
For those already staying at Snaefellsnes, Latrabarg can be considered a doable day trip to and from the national park. The ferries land somewhere around HWY 62, and it is another forty minute drive before reaching the destination. There is no cell service in the area, so definitely have a map with you, or at least the GPS saved on your phone.
Do note that getting there takes time, so reserving ample time for Latrabarg in your schedule is a MUST. It is not a simple day trip from Reykjavik and I would not recommend going all the way to Latrabarg to see puffins if that is all you wish to do. We were able to do it because we were already spending a few days in Snaefellsnes and planning to head north to see Hornstrandir Nature Reserve. A trip to Latrabarg definitely requires a day, even if you are already in the West fjords. If you need to, you can always stay at the Latrabarg Hotel.
When to See Puffins in Iceland
I loved watching these tiny birds jump off of the cliffs. And when they came back, their orange feet stick the landing in the cutest ways. They like to fly a circle around the cliffs edge, and you can usually trace the same puffin from them leaving the cliff to their return. Pretty cool!
The best time to see puffins are in the summer. They arrive in May and leave late August. We were there in the first two weeks of July. The puffins are most active in the evenings. Thanks to Iceland’s almost 24-hour sunlight, you can definitely plan to see them around midnight if you want to. Since we drove from Snaefellsnes National Park, we arrived closer to 10am. My sister was there a few hours before us. Thankfully, there were still plenty of puffins to see!
Fun Facts About Puffins
Now that you know exactly how to see puffins in Iceland, let’s get you excited about it!
There are four puffin species which are the Atlantic Puffin, the Tufted Puffin, the Horned Puffin and the Rhinoceros Auklet. Of all the species, the Atlantic Puffin is by far the cutest and the one that you will see in Iceland! Iceland hosts 60% of all Atlantic puffins, giving you plenty of opportunity to lay eyes on them (and maybe even take a selfie!).
Puffins spend most of their life at sea, but will make burrows and nest in the Spring and Summer seasons. They are excellent sea birds and use their wings to stroke water and catch fish. On top of that, they are also great flyers and can flap their wings up to 400 times in a minute. They fly as fast at 80 kilometers per hour.
Their beaks are actually grey in the winter, but blossom into a bright-orange color in the warmer months. Most likely, this is to attract a mate. They have cute orange feet that they stretch out in front of them while landing. And the pattern around their eyes really make them look sad and smiling at the same time. It’s quite adorable!
They are not intimidated by humans, but that does not mean they want contact. In fact, you should never try to touch a puffin. Doing so might transfer grease from your hands onto their feathers, which will greatly impede their flying and swimming abilities. Furthermore, it will alter their feather’s ability to deflect water while swimming. For these reasons, please be respectful of the birds and never touch or feed puffins.
If Iceland is not on your travel list, add it today. It is a gorgeous country, especially if you love the outdoors, nature, and good views. I would recommend visiting in the summer, although I heard that it holds a different kind of beauty in the winter months as well. We will certainly be back!
As you already may know, I am a firm believer in using credit cards to catapult you towards financial freedom. That sentence may seem counter-intuitive at first, but credit cards give you a massive money advantage. Trust me when I say the rich know all about it! This does not promote using credit cards haphazardly, but rather, strategically. There is a technique, and it involves using the benefits, perks, and rewards earned from credit card usage. We use credit cards to increase our credit scores, build our wealth on borrowed money with higher returns, and travel for free. Since I don’t want you to fall into the trap of spending more by opening credit cards, I created a post about ways to meet credit card minimum spend to earn sign up bonus points without spending MORE MONEY.
If you want to save this post for later, go ahead and pin the image to your Pinterest so you can refer back to this time and time again!
I recently promoted a Southwest credit card on Instagram because they were awarding a companion pass for a year just by signing up. Southwest is our favorite airline, simply because SW guarantees us free flights through Companion Pass. One of us always has the credit card, and we alternate turns in order to maximize the benefits. We only need one card holder at a time, and since the card requires a 2 year break before receiving the bonus again, this allows us to replenish our award eligibility.
On the topic of using credit cards to travel for free, the best way to utilize them is by hitting the sign-up bonus. Sign-up bonuses for credit cards are usually a big chunk of points that you can earn, simply by spending a certain amount within the first few months of opening the card. However, as a frugal, minimalist blogger, I think it quite important to stress the following message:
New credit cards should not be used as an excuse to consume unnecessary goods. This is not how the rich get rich. You must use credit cards to grow wealth, not diminish it. Once again, let me reiterate: this is a post about how to meet your credit card’s minimum spend in order to earn the sign up bonus faster WITHOUT SPENDING MORE MONEY.
Without further ado…
Pay Your Rent or Mortgage
On the rare occasion that you can use a credit card to pay your rent or mortgage, I would highly recommend doing so. This recurring monthly fee is typically the biggest spending in all budgets and if you live in California like we do, your payment could catapult you towards the minimum spend. If you have a landlord that you’ve been renting from for a long time, perhaps call them and request that you pay with a credit card. They may be willing to work with you. You will never know unless you ASK. Unfortunately, mortgage companies are a bit tougher. It’s either they accept it or they don’t, in my experience. No worries, as there are plenty of other ways to meet minimum spend.
Pay Student Loans
Student loans are EXPENSIVE. Trust me, I would know. I graduated with $575,000 of student debt at age 26. My student loan repayment journey is what started this blog! Typically, student loan payments occur once a month. Some private lenders may allow you to pay off your debt with a credit card. If you want to get rid of your debt as fast as possible, you can also make additional payments to your loans in order to hit your minimum spend. This tactic works for those who wish to pay off their debt aggressively. I do not recommend paying extra if you are on one of the repayment plans.
Prepay Utilities & Phone Bills
Bills for utilities or your phone, are normally billed monthly. You should pay these bills with your new credit card! However, there is an added secret to getting more from these bills. You can technically overpay these companies when you make a payment online. If you know you are staying with the same cell-phone carrier for another six months, why not pay off the full six months? You’re future self will thank you, and you’ll hit your sign-up bonus faster.
Caveat:Only pay what you are sure you will use. If you pay the entire minimum spend to your utilities company and you move, then that’s no good. Some people will argue they will just get a refund of their overpayment, but the refund could mess with your sign-up bonus reward. Figuring all that out can be a massive headache, so I would rather hit the minimum spend with something else to avoid it if you aren’t sure about the long-term plan for your utilities or phone bill.
Insurance is another great example! It is a recurring monthly fee, but you can pay it off early. More easy to predict than your utilities, you know when the start and end date of a calendar year is for insurance. What you can do is just pay off the rest of the calendar year and then you won’t have to worry about it. This is a big category as you have many pre-pay opportunities.
For our particular situation, we have:
home mortgage insurance.
On top of this, some people have pet insurance, or even travel insurance. Prepay a few of them to hit your minimum spend. Alternatively, follow my next advice.
Entertainment and Streaming Services
If you are signing up for a membership or a subscription that gives an option for monthly billing versus yearly billing, why not opt for yearly billing?
While Netflix and Spotify don’t allow for this option, streaming services such as Disney Plus and Hulu allows their subscribers to pay for the annual fee in one go!
In the blogging world, a lot of my platforms, social media apps and website costs have the option of being paid monthly or yearly. I choose yearly since we are always travel hacking. It helps us go through minimum spend requirements, quicker.
In the cases of Netflix and Spotify, you can still use your credit card to pay for these on a monthly basis until you hit that minimum spend. Definitely do!
In line with the previous section, perhaps you can prepay your gym membership? Maybe you can ask your gym if they have a yearly fee, which might even give you a discount. Smaller gyms have more flexibility too, and they may prefer that you pay upfront since it secures your loyalty to them. Some people buy class passes. Why not buy a bundle of 5 classes instead of paying as you go? The good news is that yearly subscriptions and memberships can sometimes be cheaper, in the long run.
Pay Ahead for Future Travel Expenses
When we get a new credit card, we look ahead and plan for future travel. Usually, we use our credit card rewards to buy flights. Only once have we opened a hotel card and found it worth it. Marriott was the only hotel that awarded decent points to its card holders. I have this Marriott Bonvoy BOLD and Mikey has this Marriot Bonvoy BOUNDLESS Card. It also helps that we have relatives who work for the chain and can get us a family discount.
That being said, unless we have Marriott points, we opt for AirBNB which historically has been cheaper than booking with hotels, although it is becoming less so. We pre-pay in full any AirBNBs we need for future trips. We also pay in full any excursions or bookings we may have. By planning ahead, we get these payments out of the way and we can budget in real-time for our upcoming trip.
Side note: You should always use your credit cards for travel. Most of them award significantly higher returns for travel expenses – sometimes up to 3X the points per $1 spent.
Reimbursable Business Travel Expenses
My dad travels a lot for business. Many years ago, he started asking his company if he could pay for his travel expenses and if they can reimburse him, instead of him using the company card. For the most part, they said yes! This means he could accrue points on his credit card without spending more money. This works especially well if you work for a smaller company or hold a higher up position.
These are the things you can get reimbused for:
Transportation and Gas
A small warning: Sometimes, reimbursements from your company may take a while. Make sure you can shoulder the spending and pay off your credit card in full at the end of the month to make this tactic worth it. Also, make sure your company will pay you back! Keep a log of all company spending, as well as receipts for proof.
Pay for a Wedding
Do you have a wedding coming up? It doesn’t matter if it’s your own wedding or someone else’s wedding that you are a part of. Credit cards are great for paying for weddings. I actually wish we knew about travel hacking before we got married. Alas, I did not learn about it until 6 months into our marriage, so we payed for flights to New Zealand and hotels with our hard-earned post-tax dollars. Womp womp.
But by sharing it would our friends, we have helped them honeymoon in Japan FOR FREE (flights and hotels covered) by using credit cards to pay for their wedding! And the wedding payments gave them that boost for hitting minimum spends on multiple credit cards. Because there were two of them, they were able to skirt around Chase’s 5/24 rule by divvying up the credit cards they applied for.
If you are simply attending a wedding, you can still get a lot out of it! I wish I didn’t have to say this, but the truth is, weddings are costly! And when you are part of the party or even a guest to a wedding, you don’t really have much say (unless you opt out of it entirely, which I have done).
Things you can pay for in an upcoming wedding include:
For the guest
Bachelor/Bachelorette Party and Trip Expenses
Bridal Shower Party or Trip Expenses
Engagement Party Expenses
Gifts for any of the three previously mentioned events, or the wedding itself
Bridesmaid Dresses or Groomsman Tux
Any accessories you need for wedding day
Hairstylist, Manicurist or Cosmetologist Fees
Limos or Transportation Expenses
For the couple
Bartenders and Alcohol
Pay for the holidays
Every year, we apply for credit cards at the end of October so that we receive them in the mail mid-November. We do this because we know the holidays are coming up. We easily hit minimum spends in this way because I am always the one hosting Friendsgiving. Occasionally, I pitch it for my mom’s Thanksgiving dinner, too. I am also the one in charge of buying gifts for everyone in December. And there are plenty of opportunities to contribute a dessert plate, or gift in kindness during the holidays. If you know you spend a lot during the holidays, then definitely time your minimum spends accordingly.
If you wish to spend less on holidays, here are a few blog posts I’ve published around that.
In line with the previous section, use your new credit card to pay for gifts. While I am not an advocate for big and extravagant gifts, the truth of the matter is that gift giving is my love language. And for the most part, I choose gift ideas for someone’s next birthday ahead of time. I’ll hear them casually mention something they wish they had or want to buy, and I’ll jot it down in my Apple Notes for safe-keeping.
If you already know what you want to buy a friend for their next birthday, why not buy it early? I mean, with the current rate of inflation, your dollar will buy more today than it will tomorrow anyway! And while minimalists will gape at me for wanting to stash thingsand take up space for an extra few months, it does make your life simpler since it prevents scrambling and last-minute shopping closer to that birthdate. Alternatively, for the anti-consumerist in you, these consumable gift ideas still require a bit of spending anyway.
This probably should have been higher up on the list because of the frequency of this spending, but I decided to put it a bit lower since the previous examples involved higher numbers. But now that we’re here…
Everyone spends money on groceries. In fact, most families don’t spend enough money on groceries! They dine out way too often!! But that’s neither here nor there. Regardless of your preferred habits, groceries are a great way to hit minimum spend. I like to go up and down the grocery aisle and stock up on non-perishable items that happen to be on sale. I also like to plan ahead and buy house cleaning items that I know we will run out of eventually. Even bathroom necessities like soap, shampoo, and conditioner are great options.
Once again, for the minimalists gawking at me – when I say buy in multiples, I mean not one. I also mean, not a hundred. Great arguments for buying a little extra include:
Less stress when your current one runs out, leading to a simpler life.
Less money in general, as buying in bulk usually means a discounted price (please check to make sure it IS cheaper. Some stores charge more for bulk, which makes no sense).
Buying extra means less trips to the grocery store, which means less gas, if you have a gas vehicle. Considering gas prices, you should really buy for a few weeks at a time.
If you need ideas on what to buy, here are my favorite items to buy in order to hit minimum spend:
Baking Powder and Baking Soda
Oil and Vinegar
Spices and Herbs
Bouillon cubes in place of refridgerated broths
Canned fish – I love sardines and tuna
Canned vegetables (or my preferred option: pickled vegetables)
Nuts and Seeds
Shelf-stable milks (Non-dairy options can last for months in a pantry, such as oatmilk)
Okay, so if you dine out a lot, then this is an opportunity for you to put a dent in that minimum spend. But that does not mean spending more than what is customary! It does not give you a reason to add a glass of wine or a decadent dessert to the tab. But I do have some tricks up my sleeve.
I try to keep in touch with friends and family and one of the ways we do that is by grabbing a meal. While I prefer to cook for them and to hang out at home, dining out once in a while lowers the barrier to staying connected. Meaning, it eliminates the added stress that cooking and cleaning can create, which allows for more spontaneous get-togethers.
It would be odd to say that I have a rotation of friends and family with a semi-scheduled frequency of hanging out, but I sort of do. In order to meet that frequency, I invite my friends and family to dinner around times when we have minimum spends. I ask them if I could pay for the bill (even explaining that we do this travel hacking thing in life), and request that they pay for their portion via Venmo. I have never had anyone deny us. Actually, what it did was inspire our friends to start asking of us the same thing, and we were then happy to help them hit their minimum spends!
Nowadays, our friends and family rotate around who pays for the bill, depending on who has a minimum spend requirement to meet. You can definitely do this with a group of people in an organized way, allowing for your credit score to go back up while someone else benefits from travel hacking. Better yet, you can use the points accrued in your group to take a trip TOGETHER, allowing for more bonding time!
By the way, dining out includes everything from a 4-course meal for two, to that daily coffee you order at your local shop. No purchase is too small when it comes to hitting these minimum spends!
Here’s another one and it’s something many of us still use! Charge it, it you will reach your minimum spend faster … especially during this hike in prices (yikes!). At the gas station, we also fill up propane tanks for our Ooni Pizza Oven. Maybe fill up multiple propane tanks while you’re there, to save you the trip.
Store Gift Cards
This is probably a good time to insert gift cards. Gift cards are a super powerful tactic, and one of my travel-hacking best-kept secrets. Gift cards are an extra fast way to easily meet your minimum spend. Here is why.
There are certain stores that I am sure your household continually returns to. For us, our favorite grocery stores are Whole Foods and Sprouts. Occasionally, the Stater Bros in the same plaza as my work office offers convenience. We have certain gas stations that we go too, primarily, the ones closest to our homes. And we will frequently swing by Walmart or Target.
Likewise, there are certain restaurants that you visit more frequently than others. In the case of Mike’s family, they have ten favorite restaurants that they pretty much alternate through. They don’t stray much from HopDoddy, Marie Calendar’s, Chilli’s, The Habit, In’N’Out, and PF Chang’s. So I know that gift cards to these places will eventually be used!
Therein lies the ultimate hack. Buying gift cards to these stores means you can reach your minimum spend, without buying the actual STUFF right now. Gift cards usually don’t have expiration dates, which means you can stash them for later. Plus, big monetary amounts can be placed on gift cards, sometimes in the hundreds! They are also, well, giftable.
Here are a list of gift card options that you are sure to use everyday:
A word on inflation. Currently, the inflation rate is up the wazoo at a whopping 7.9% in February 2022, and I believe it’s here to stay (at least for a while). This means that a dollar today may be worth more than a dollar a week from now. That being said, there is an argument during times of inflation to buy things in bulk/ahead of time. For example, compare the cost of a box of cereal today to what it was just a few months ago. If you didn’t notice, our California price for a box of wheat went up by $2 in the last 6 months.It isn’t just gas prices that has sky-rocketed. Groceries, fast food, car prices, and personal care services have increased. Food for thought, I suppose…
House Maintenance and Repairs
If you’re a home-owner, then you know all about this section. You can choose to wait until something breaks down to repair it, or you can be pro-active with house maintenance. If you know the roof needs replacement but it still hasn’t caused issues, maybe now is the time to address it? Or you have a leaky sink that you don’t have the time to tinker with. Go ahead and call the plumber. A majority of us like to ignore these repairs until we absolutely have to address them, but having a credit card that needs spending is a great time to be pro-active, especially when being pro-active can avoid more expensive costs in the future.
Home Renovations or Upgrades
If you were planning to renovate your home, I would highly recommend opening a credit card right before you do so. Same goes for if you are planning to move, or to upgrade anything in your house. Furniture, as well as everyday house items, can speed up hitting your minimum spend requirement. Contractors will typically accept credit cards, and you can use your credit card at home decor stores and department stores. Of course, new credit cards should not be used as an excuse to elevate your home.
Car Maintenance and Repairs
I take my car in regularly for its check-ups. But there are also maintenance things that I can pay for early. For example, if I notice my tires are getting thin, I replace them before they pop. I check for tire pressure and tread depth. If I notice a light on my dash, I bring it in for evaluation and address the issue. And I change my windshield wipers once a year. Since I have an older car, I also have to keep up with the brake lights, the coolant, and the battery. I actually keep a spare brake light in my trunk, after learning how to change it myself.
If you have kids, it is possible that they are signed up for sports and activities. You can always pay for these programs ahead of time. For example, if you want to sign up your child for a sport next season, why not sign-up early? You can also buy necessary activity items early too. This includes sports gear, sports goods, musical instruments, art supplies and more. Lastly, if you have a Team Mom, ask to pay ahead for your portion of the participation trophies and the end-of-the-year party. Or better yet, volunteer to be the Team Mom and pay for all of these things and get reimbursed by the other parents later on.
Your Resell Business
If you have read my post about Ways to Earn Extra Income Through Side-Hustles, then you already know that Poshmark or other reselling platforms have been proven to be viable businesses for some people. I, myself, have a friend who buys things and resells them on Poshmark. She goes to thrift stores and searches for things that she knows she can flip. It’s a hobby for her, but also, one that makes her money. If you are thinking of adding reselling to your side-hustle resume, then you can use your finds to hit the minimum spend. Just be careful not to bite off more than you can chew – advice for anyone looking to get into the reselling business.
Downpayment on a New Car
If you’ve been looking to buy a new car, make sure to open your credit card right before. You may be able to make a down-payment (as much as $5,000) with your credit card. But please call the car company first and make sure that they accept credit as a form of down-payment. Of course, only do this if you were already planning to buy a car…
Purchasing New Tech
I was 31 years old when I decided to buy tech for the first time. Until then, I was using hand-me-down work laptops from my dad or unwanted cell phones from Mike or my parents. They were always so slow, sometimes shut-down randomly, and for two years I built a blog on a permanently flickering screen. I am pretty much my eyes received permanent damage.
But when I decided to upgrade both my laptop and my cell phone, I planned ahead and opened a credit card. I decided to do both at the same time, which is what’s so great about optional spending. I waited until my credit card arrived in the mail, timed with Cyber Monday deals, and met my minimum spend in one day.
Some of you may make yearly charitable donations. There is certainly a tax benefit for doing so, plus you can contribute to a worthy cause. Feel free to charge it whenever possible! Make all your charitable donations early when you need to hit a minimum spend.
Ask for Help from Friends and Family
There was one instance wherein Mike and I bit off more than we can chew. It was 2018 and we had just discovered the concept of travel hacking. In true fashion, I signed us up for multiple credit cards. After a month or so, I realized that simultaneously opening multiple cards made it a bit difficult to hit the minimum spend. So I reached out to my parents and asked if there was anything I could prepay for them so that I could meet our minimum spending. All they had to do was Venmo me back.
It was actually quite easy and by opening up that avenue to friends and family, I have found that more of them ask the same of me. I am more than happy to help them out in return. As I mentioned in the dining out section, we kind of have a roulette going as to who would pay for what. By doing so, we are helping each other optimize our paths to financial independence. That’s friend goals right there!
Hopefully you enjoyed my tips and tricks on hitting credit card minimum spends. Please share any tips you have with the community in the comments below!
This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure to learn more.
We had the pleasure of having my brother and his girlfriend as city guides on our recent travel to Phoenix, Arizona this past weekend. They live in Glendale, which is just a stone’s throw away. Our lovely weekend was spent visiting a mixture of their favorite spots and a few new ones, too. We were not disappointed with what the area had to offer. While it is fresh in my mind, here is a travel guide for a weekend getaway in Phoenix, Arizona.
♦◊◊◊ Not worth the time.
♦♦◊◊ Good, but ordinary.
♦♦♦◊ Great. Worth a visit.
♦♦♦♦ Exceptional. A must-do experience.
$ Frugal friendly
♦♦ 7105 E 1st Ave, Scottsdale, AZ 85251 $
Fourtillfour Coffee is a car-themed coffee shop housed in a garage space in Scottsdale, Arizona. An industrial roll-up door welcomes guests into a tiny shop housing merchandise and toy cars. Meanwhile, the coffee beans are packaged in containers that mimic vintage gas tanks, and the merchandise also imbibes a retro Grease-like vibe. Every Saturday, they host car meet-ups with different themes, which I think is pretty cool. People were gathering under the trees on tables and benches in the front lawn. I love that dogs were welcome, and there was a homey feel to the space.
Unfortunately, the coffee itself was more traditional in taste. I believe the beans were blends and not single-origin, so the drip isn’t exactly something out of this world. However, I think the traditionality of the coffee matches the vintage vibe of the shop, and I don’t necessarily consider the coffee bad. So I rate it good, but ordinary in terms of coffee. Regardless, it is still a really cool meet-up and hang-out spot, and you’re sure to see a few awesome cars parked on the street!
The Herb Box
♦♦♦ 7051 E 5th Ave J, Scottsdale, AZ 85251 $$
We had brunch at The Herb Box in Scottsdale, Arizona. The expansive patio has plenty of shaded seating. The indoor space is quite large as well. Good quality ingredients make up a wide array of brunch fare. They allowed us to bring our outside coffee in, which was pretty nice. And the service was excellent. Other than that, it was just a regular brunch on a regular Saturday.
Snakes and Lattes
♦♦♦♦ 20 W 6th St, Tempe, AZ 85281 $$
We love board-games! So it may be biased to say that we loved this space. That being said, any game nerd who is going to travel to Phoenix, Arizona needs to stop at this place. Snakes and Lattes offers a great selection of food, alcohol, coffee, and coffee-alcohol (another plus). Their selection of games is incredible as well! And they have a board-game guru standing by the games, walking around, and teaching people how to play. He was great! Not all board-game cafes have a guru but now I am thinking they should.
The service was amazing and the play time is unlimited. It only costs $6 per person to play. The indoor space is large and there’s also an outdoor patio if you want to get some sun. We stayed a total of 4 hours and my brother has been there multiple times with groups as small as four people and as big as fourteen. We ordered beers and cocktails. Pro-tip:Happy Hour is from 2-4pm!
♦♦♦♦ 5640 N 7th St, Phoenix, AZ 85014 $
In order to kill time between board-games and dinner, we swung by The Yard to grab a few beers and play ping-pong and cornhole. It has been a while since I had that much fun! The Yard is a great place to watch sports games on their many TV screens while eating eclectic bar bites and drinking cocktails or beer. It is situated in a college town, and a majority of the patrons there were in their 20’s and 30’s. There is an open space where one can play shuffleboard, ping-pong, and cornhole. It just takes an ID to rent the supplies. But don’t forget to get a stamp on your wrist if you give up your ID, so that you can still order drinks as you play. We surely worked up an appetite before going to dinner.
♦♦♦ Suite #107, 3415 S McClintock Dr, Tempe, AZ 85282 $
‘Welcome to Ramen Dozo, where the ramen is good, the broth is traditional, and the service isn’t so great.’ That was the introduction our server gave, which wasn’t completely far from the truth. The Ramen was good, but the space wasn’t ambient and the service was a bit off-kilter. Still, I really liked our waiter. Not because we got into a long conversation about our new Bitcoin card, but because he was honest, had a sarcastic humor, and was really trying his best to serve us as quickly as possible. The poor guy looked like he was waiting all the tables in the restaurant!
However, the ramen was really good. I ordered my typical tonkotsu ramen and it came with decent pork portions. I also ordered a side of extra noodles but I think the serving was big enough that I didn’t really need to. In fact, I didn’t finish them which NEVER happens. Mike got the spicy miso ramen and really liked his ramen as well! The price was awesome, coming in at around $10 a bowl. We are used to California $15-$20 ramens, so I was super happy with this one. I gave it a frugal rating! Definitely worth a visit if you are in the area. They do close early, though, so plan to eat by 7pm.
♦♦♦♦ 4501 N 32nd St, Phoenix, AZ 85018 $$
Great space to match great 3rd wave coffee! This spot is actually serving coffee by day and cocktails and beer by night! They have two bars – one lined with espresso machines and the other lined with draft beer handles. They serve bread and pastry with your coffee, as well as house a number of great coffee merch items! In the evenings, they have a pizza menu to go with your beer. I really liked this coffee spot, and my brother already has plans to return for weekend study sessions! There is ample room in the air-conditioned indoors, as well as a patio with a number of tables and benches. And it seems the dogs love it, too! PS: If you live in OC, California like I do, Bad Coffee sells Provision coffee beans. So there isn’t necessarily a need to travel to Phoenix, Arizona to try them out.
♦♦♦♦ 501 E Roosevelt St, Phoenix, AZ 85004 $
If anyone ever tells you there are no good taco places in Arizona, they’d be lying. To be honest, I wasn’t expecting much, coming from Southern California. But the tacos at Taco Chelo really blew me away. It was after hiking Piestewa Peak and Freedom Loop Trail, a 4.5 mile endeavor in Arizona sun that had me questioning our visit. The peak portion of the trail was amazing, but by the time we started the loop, I was very tired and exhausted. Nothing that tacos can’t fix! I would highly recommend going here. The serving is decent, as I got full after two tacos and splitting an order of chips. The others ate 3-4 tacos, which was quite impressive. The green salsa that came with the chips was so delicious, I added it to everything. And the service was fast! Exactly what we needed as we were starving post-hike.
♦♦♦♦ 603 N 5th Ave, Phoenix, AZ 85003 $$
They really did save the best for last, as this was my favorite spot for the entire weekend. The restaurant is actually a home with a large front yard lined by a white picket fence and covered by mature trees. String lights create the perfect ambience as we dined al fresco. A few musicians were stationed in the corner of the lawn singing and playing string instruments. The vibe was laid-back, family style, but also, romantic enough for young couples on their first date.
The wine selection was decent but the pizza was amazing! I finished an entire pizza by myself, which is a great sign. Sourdough bakers always say that a dough is made right when you can eat an entire loaf by yourself in one sitting. Same goes for pizza! I ordered the Diavola (Tomato sauce – mozzarella and spicy salame) and Mikey ordered the Dolce Vita (Burrata – spek – arugula and balsamic glaze). Don’t let the simple ingredients fool you. This is just how pizzas were meant to be. Next time we travel to Phoenix, Arizona, we will be back at this joint!
In August, we visited my sister who lives in El Centro of Madrid, Spain. We landed in a city suffering from 107 degree heat in the latter part of the summer season. Somehow, we survived all the walking. It was absolutely worth the sweat. We were only there one full day, as she also wanted to vacation away from home. These photographs are a handful of my favorites.
Of note are the croissants from Pum Pum Bakery, as well as the environment at Hola Coffee, who houses a fantastic collection of coffee magazines and coffee books. I actually wanted to spend all day in both spots! Not pictured is Hanso Cafe, another great spot to grab a matcha waffle, egg sandwiches, or coffee. And if I had another day, I would have nabbed a pastry at Mision Bakehouse, too!
I also recommend swinging by Mercado de San Miguel for a few bites, even though it’s a bit touristy. For a great dinner, I would recommend the Sky 44 Bar and Restaurant above the hotel Hostal Charlotte. Go to the rooftop bar before heading to the floor below for a nice dinner. The rooftop has sweeping views of the entire city, which is known for its red buildings. Don’t let the view deceive you! From above all you see is red brick but when you walk the streets, colorful alleys abound!
And if you wish to shop, the Cortes district all the way to Gran Via has a number of great stores to explore. My favorite discovery was a clothing brand called Oysho and a store dedicated to the most intricately shaped candy I have ever seen. As you are walking about, I would also recommend stopping at the empanada stores, trying the Patatas Bravas, Churros and Chocolate, and I suppose the Calamari Sandwiches were a thing, too (although we didn’t have the chance to try it). Plaza Mayor has a great number of outdoor patios where one can stop and order a beer and snacks, in case the walking gets to be a bit too much.
It was such a treat to be able to discover this city, even for a little while. I will definitely be back!
Snaefellsnes National Park is a beautiful, secluded area on the western coast of Iceland, only two and a half hours away from Reykjavik. It was voted one of the most romantic areas to get away in Iceland, and is the perfect place for both hiking in the summer and Northern light viewing in the winter. We stayed two days in this area and I absolutely fell in love. I wish we could have stayed an extra day in order to explore more of this region, but we were short on time in general. There are many things to see in this national park, and some of the most iconic images come from this area. The experience is unparalleled by other national parks we have visited, coupled with the seclusion and moody weather (even mid-summer!). Here, I will highlight a few sights but to be honest, none of these photographs do it justice and you really have to go for yourself to believe it.
Note: the sights are listed in order if you drive around the national park counter-clockwise, which is the direction that you approach it from Reykjavik (the south).The best way to get to the Snaefellsnes area (and all around Iceland) is by renting a car or campervan. We rented a car from Hertz which had the best deal at the time. Just a side note, there is plenty of gravel roads and F-roads in Iceland so you want to rent an F-road approved car if you want to reach the most remote of places. Also, we got car insurance for peace of mind since flying gravel is a common occurrence and we weren’t willing to risk car dents and broken windshields.
These cliffs are encountered on the way to Snaefellsness National Park via a tiny road splitting from the main highway to the right. Parking wasn’t an issue as this place is usually deserted, allowing you to revel peacefully at its glory. Evenly spaced, dark grey basalt columns made from lava rock line the cliff walls and have baffled scientists for many years. It isn’t so much the fact that the columns extend for miles but rather, the fact that the evenness in width of each column makes it seem as if this natural beauty was carved by hand. The explanation comes from the way in which the lave rock must have cooled evenly. Small indentations in the grass show a path by which you can climb to the top of the cliffs to get a better view of the valley below.
Ytri Tunga Beach
This beach is comically famous in island as it is the only yellow sand beach present. To which Mike replied, “So like every beach in California?!” I suppose to an islander who is used to black sand beaches, this is a sight to be seen. It is still worth a visit as this is the stomping grounds for different breeds of seals. We visited during golden hour and the seals were playing in the water, bobbing their heads along as Mike and I climbed rocks to see them. Although we were originally unsure whether the “sameness” of this beach to one you would find in sunny San Diego is worth the drive, I was pleasantly surprised at how much we enjoyed our sunset there. We must have watched the seals for an hour, before heading off to dinner.
This black church is similar to many churches in island, so if you’ve already seen one, there is no need to pull off the side of the road to see this one. However, it does mark the start of an eight-hour hiking trail that I wish I was able to do. It is hardly mentioned in the blogs online or in travel books, but it travels from Hotel Budhir to Hellnar. We did end up doing a portion of it, hiking from Anastarpi to Hellnar, but when we return to this region (which we surely will!), I would like to set aside the proper time to do the hike that starts from this church.
This grand waterfall is so close to the road that you can see it on the road. The sign to the right of the road is small and easy to miss, but it is definitely turning back around for. There is a short hike that gets you closer to the falls, but not right up to the tippy top. Pro advice: a tiny picnic area hidden among the trees at the base of the waterfall makes this a great place to eat lunch.
I’ve written about what can be found in Anastarpi in my previous post highlighting the hike from Anastarpi to Hellnar. This tiny town is a great place for bird-watching from the Cliff Viewpoint. It also has the famous Bdar Saga Statue that was built from rocks and towers over the town. You can climb the stone bridge and take a photograph that makes you look like you are high-up in the air, too. And I wrote in that post about the pizza we had for lunch, which I totally recommend. If you have a few days in the national park, I would really recommend hiking from here to Hellnar, as it is a short 1-hour trek and would break up the site-seeing quite nicely.
There are many viewpoints along the highway running around Snaefellsness National Park. This one is just a few steps from the lot. It isn’t much different from the bird-watching that can be found in Anastarpi, but the rock formation was sure worth the two-minute detour.
The Vatnshellir Cave is an 8,000 year old lava tube created during a nearby crater’s volcanic eruption. As the lava flowed down a hill onto the lava river, it cooled on the surface as the lava river continued to drain out, thus creating a roof-top over the existing cave. One company does tour guides for the cave and they are the only ones with a permit to enter. That means that you need to do a tour with a guide to see the cave. We decided not to join the tour as we had many other sites on our list. It doesn’t seemed to be booked in advance, which is good, as we saw cars pulling up and signing up for the next tour. You do need to wear proper gear which they provide (such as a helmet), and they ran 45-minute tours every hour at the price of 3500 ISK per adult.
This beach was another area in which I sadly did not set aside enough time for. I was expecting nothing more than a black sand beach, but to my surprise, there were multiple hiking trails to take from the car park and this beach actually spans a large area. We did do one of the shorter hikes which took us down to the black rock beach, where the remains of a ship wreck can still be seen. To the right of the beach are steps that leads one to a small pool where previous settlers (mostly sea people) had to walk to to get access to drinkable water. There were two other hikes that I really wanted to see, each of which took 1-2 and 3-4 hours respectively. I will definitely be back here to explore! I think it would be best to set aside a half-day to see this beach at leisure.
The Saxholar Crater is nothing but a huge hole in the ground that is viewable after climbing a surmountable number of steps. The cardio work was fun, don’t get me wrong, but the view was anti-climactic and honestly not worth the climb (unless you’ve never seen a crater before?). It is a five-minute detour from the road, if you just want to see it. But Iceland had so many other things to see!
This was definitely not worth driving to as it required a 1 hour driving detour from the main road on a gravelly path (which meant a 2 hour detour total) just to see a lighthouse. There was, however, cool signs at the end that gave a bit of history about how the sea travelers who landed in this part of Iceland survived. Some of the old dwellings are still visible as mounds in the soil, and there is a scary looking well that you can look at. Mike was brave enough to walk into it, but it was too claustrophobic for me to even try. To be fair, we were coming to the end of our very long day of sight-seeing and I was getting cantankerous from the hunger pains signaling the need for dinner, and soon … so there’s that.
This waterfall and the background mountain reminds me of Mount Crumpit from Who-ville where The Grinch lived. It is so fairytale like that I wouldn’t believe it was a real place if I didn’t see it myself. The fall itself isn’t as grand as it seems from the photographs but the background can’t be beat on a clear day (luckily, it did clear up in the latter half of the afternoon). There is a lot on the side of the road and it is a minute’s walk from the car park to the fall itself. I had to open this entire post with this photograph, although here is another view of it without the mountain in the background from the base of the fall. Not as grand, right? It is one of the most famous sites for Google stock photos, and looks even prettier (or so it appears in other people’s pictures) with the Northern Lights in the background.
Landmannalaugar is a space shaped from fairytales. The silica-rich mountains of the area are made of rhyolite, a type of volcanic rock, and streaked with the colors of a rainbow – red, blue, pink, green and yellow. It was historically a geothermal retreat for settlers, and the little pool at the base of the mountain was named The People’s Pool. Today, it still remains a bath for adventurers wishing to rest tired limbs after a long day of hiking. It’s no wonder this place is known as Iceland’s Pearl of the Highlands.
How to Get to Landmannalaugar
Starkly contrasted against a black lava field called Laugahraun, this gem of a place is tucked away in the heart of Fjallaback Nature Reserve and takes about two and a half hours to get to from the closest town (three hours if you’re coming from Reykjavik). We stayed at Fludir near the Golden Circle, and took the Northern Route, which according to the reviews was the easiest.
The first hour of the drive was on paved road, and I would recommend filling up the gas tank at Fludir or Arnes, as there will be no gas stations for miles around. After an hour, the road gradually changes to gravel, and then to F-Roads. You need to make sure you have an F-Road allowed car when you rent one at the airport. The F-roads were rough and really slowed down our driving. Some people were zooming along in their trucks, but even they were bouncing past the rocky terrain. After about an hour of F-Roads, the last stretch was on gravel, which was much easier to manage. Thirty minutes more until we got to the first parking lot. There are technically two parking lots but to get to the second, you must cross a river. We came on a summer day and the river tide was low. Still, we chose to park in the first lot since the walk to the second only took five minutes. We didn’t want to risk ruining our rental car. I have heard that getting to Landmannalaugar from the North is the only way to avoid a river crossing.
Despite this, it is worth the drive, even for a day trip. If you wish to make the most out of your drive, there is a campsite at the base of the mountains. Or better yet, Landmannalaugar is the start of an epic, three-day trek called Laugavegur Trek, which is rated the number one multi-day hike option in Iceland.
The Campsite at Landmannalaugar
There is a campground at Landmannalaugar and a decent number of people were posted up. Since there are multiple day-hikes in the area, I assume it was common for people to stay overnight. The campsite has a stand where you can buy snacks and supplies. At this same stand, you’ll need to purchase a wrist band to use the facilities. Since we were hiking all day (and chugging water on those steep ascents), we did pay for a restroom pass. It became useful when we changed out of our hiking gear and into our bathing suits for the People’s Pool later on. It isn’t necessary to purchase anything ahead of time or to reserve a camping spot. We saw a number of people walk up to the window and ask to buy a spot for the night. Nomad living and campervan life is common in Iceland, so most of the people just post up where they please. I can very much understand why Landmannalaugar is one of those spots. To note, there are also beds to be rented out in two huts behind the supply store (if camping isn’t your thing). A peek into the building windows indicated that there was a working kitchen and common room with electricity and running water. I would look into how to reserve these huts ahead of time.
Laugahraun Lava Fields
We started our hikes behind the aforementioned huts. Into the lava fields we went. There was an initial hilly climb that took less than a few minutes to complete. After that, it was an easy stroll for half of the loop trail. The best thing about this area is that all trails are marked by color-coded posts. The lava fields were demarcated with orange/green/white posts – since they are also the start of two other trails.
There was a lot to be seen in the lava fields. Crazy rock formations and a stunning sea of black volcanic rock surrounded you completely. It felt like being on Mars, or being the lone survivor after the world’s doom. Eventually, you will come to a clearing that gives you a great view of the beautifully colored mountains. The view from the bottom is just as amazing as the view from the top, so I would stop to gander. Halfway around the loop trail is the opportunity to veer right. Tall grass beckoned us towards the Brenneinsteida Loop (green posts) and we hugged the mountain side going in a counter-clockwise direction. It seemed that clock-wise was the popular decision, but I do think counter-clockwise was the easier path since the steepest of hills were climbed upwards rather than downwards. This isn’t to say that sliding down gravelly hills is impossible, but I would prefer to do steep descents with walking sticks which I didn’t have at hand on that day. In the end, the counter-clockwise decision on our part was pure luck, and like most things in our life, we do have a knack for going against the grain.
From the lava fields, you hug a grassy trail around the mountain’s base. Even in mid July, there was a patch of melting snow on the back side of the mountain where the light doesn’t hit it as much. Hiking boots are a must for this trail, although hiking poles are not. The melting snow is nothing but a short patch and if you’d like to stray from the trail a bit, you could cross the tiny stream and walk in the grass. From here you can cross the plain and there is a trail that goes into the mountains on the right. However, we hugged the mountain on the left until we reached a very steep hillside for ascent. It was incredibly brutal, but the whole way up, I was thanking the heavens that I was going uphill instead of downhill. My fear was that thee would be a similar hill on the other side of the mountain, but luckily it was more gradual and easier to descend. Like I said, clock-wise is the way to go.
After the steep ascent that took no more than 10 minutes for us to climb, there is a series of upward slopes with areas of flat terrain in between, giving us a good number of breaks. I found myself constantly stopping and turning around, as well as looking to my sides. There was beauty to be seen everywhere and I have never seen such magical colors come out of the Earth before. In geothermal pools, yes. But not from mountains!
At the very top of the mountain, there is a view of the lava fields below, and of Blahnukur Trail (Blue Mountain). It was breath-taking. If you have it in you, you can continue this loop to the Blahnukur Trail. A few hikers at the top mentioned that there is a river crossing required (maybe up to the knees, you must remove your shoes, and the glacial water is freezing cold!) and a scramble up some scree on the initial hill. (If you were doing the hike clock-wise, the scree scramble would be at the end of Blahnukur Trail, on the way down, which in my opinion is worse). Other than those two things, the trail was described by others as fairly moderate and straight-forward. The mountain man giving us advice had a 6-month old baby strapped to his chest – which either says something about his abilities at scrambling, or the level of difficulty of the hike. We decided it was the former, and skipped Blahnukur due to the fact that we still had half of the lava fields to do. If we were camping overnight, I may have done it on a different day.
The People’s Pool
After we made our way through the second half of the lava fields (the latter portion has more rocky terrain and isn’t as easy as the first half), we decided to take a dip in the ever-famous People’s Pool. We changed in the restrooms and walked the plank over to the natural, geothermally heated pond. It is not as nice as the Reykjadalur Hot Springs and since it’s more of a pool rather than a river, you have to be okay with stagnant water. Mossy greens float in the water and it isn’t clear in color. Rocks cover the bottom of the pool, so do bring sandals if you’ve got tender feet like me. I was okay wading through the rocks but it did hurt and it took me a while to meander to the warm part of the pool.
There is a changing deck with stairs leading into the water. It’s a bit frigid until you get to the part of the pool where the running water enters it – these are the sources of geothermal heat. Which is a great spot to meet other travelers and converse about the beauty of Iceland. Sometimes, it does require a bit of moving around, as areas tend to get too hot, depending on the rate of water flow. It was exactly what our muscles needed! I was even okay with smelling like geothermal water (rotten eggs) on the entire car ride home!
This is definitely one of our top five experiences in Iceland. I know that it’s far from Reykjavik but it’s well worth the drive. Next time we’re back, we’ll save time for a three-day trek down the Laugavegur trail, perhaps even connecting to Fimmvorduhals Trail for a total of five days. This area is not to be missed!