10 MUST Know Tips for First Time Campers

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This past weekend we took my mother in law and the rest of the family on their very first camping trip. It was Jovany, his mom and step dad, 3 teenagers, myself, + 3 dogs! What a weekend (LOL). While everyone had a great time, give or take 1 or 2 teenagers, I noticed first time campers (as with anything new) have some difficulty getting the hang of things that with experience, are very quite simply. Seeing them struggle with their sleeping bags, not bringing the proper sleepwear, etc. really got my attention and thus, the inspiration for this post! Here are some tips that I think are CRUCIAL for first time campers!

  1. STUFF YOUR SLEEPING BAG

    I love seeing people take their sleeping bags out, set them out for a comfortable night’s rest to then FREAK in the morning because they can’t seem to fit it back into it’s bag! How did this even fit in there?! How is it possible?! You probably try to roll in into a tight ball like the way you took it out of it’s brand new bag! WRONG. Stuff that sh*t! Seriously…. Grab one end of the sleeping bag and STUFF it into it’s bag. While you’re stuffing it, you can push out all the air that is currently in your sleeping bag taking up space! This is a much easier and faster way to pack your sleeping bag.

  2. BRING ‘PROPER’ CLOTHING

    Even in the Summer months, most places (with a few exceptions… hello, Miami), will get pretty chilly at night. Do some research prior to your trip so you know what the weather will be like. If you’re camping in the mountains, the weather can change in an instant so be prepared. Bring clothing for all types of weather! Many people also assume that since we’re in the summer months, it will be HOT. While this is different for some people, it usually gets pretty cool at night and your shelter will most probably not hold in heat. Bring clothing that will keep you warm and comfortable at night, whether you’re someone who loves the old or not. You never know how cold you may feel until you’re shaking in your tent at 3am in 50 degree weather. Also, make sure you’re sleeping OFF the ground. If you don’t have something such as a sleeping pad or inflatable mattress, it’s going to get really cold at night on the ground!

  3. BUG SPRAY?

    Do you really need it? Are you terrified of bugs? Well, if you’re going camping, you’re GOING to see all types of bugs! Bug spray may help keep them OFF of you, but they’re still going to be around. I recommend learning about some bugs and how they help keep ecosystems in balance. Bugs will be around and most of the time, you’re not going to need heavy duty bug spray. With this in mind, I recommend purchasing a natural bug spray made out of essential oils. Studies have shown that Lemon Eucalyptus is great for repelling mosquitos and other flying insects, including ticks. Unless you plan on rolling in the dirt, I do not think you should be too concerned with bugs. Wearing proper clothing can help keep bugs off of you too, so make sure you bring long socks, long pants, and closed shoes. If you’re still concerned about ticks, you can choose chemical sprays, but they do come with many possible adverse reactions. Many will argue that the rates of bad reactions are LOW but I try not to use the bad stuff unless i’m going deep in the Everglades, where I know mosquito clouds exist. With this in mind, I recommend doing research on where you’re camping. Is there an increase in bugs during the summer months? Are you camping near a wetland? Is it usually hot and humid? These are things to consider and I recommend calling your campground for more info.

  4. FOOD + EQUIPMENT

    Look up recipes on Pinterest prior to heading out. Make sure you buy all the necessary equipment, in case your campground does not have a grill. Test out any equipment you may have. Don’t forget to bring the necessities… utensils, napkins, plates, and cups. Single use is not the best for the area because 1. you’ll have to buy a lot of garbage bags and store all of that garbage in your car. and 2. you’ll be contributing to landfills. There are many great options that can be reused over and over again on all your camping trips! Also, find a supermarket near your campsite and buy food there! This will provide you with fresh, delicious food and you won’t have to carry it all on your trip to the camping area! You can set up your tent and then go purchase whatever you need! Make sure your campground has potable drinking water, if not, you will need to bring your own!

  5. PRACTICE SETTING UP YOUR TENT

    Sounds like common sense, but many people think setting up a tent is super easy! IT’S NOT! It can be really complicated depending on your tent! Make your camping adventure a stress free one and practice setting up your sleeping area prior to leaving! Set up EVERYTHING! Tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pad or inflatable mattress, lights, etc. You’ll thank me later.

  6. FIRE SAFETY

    It goes without being said…. Always practice fire safety! If you want, bring a fire extinguisher or have a large container of water nearby (just in case)! Some campgrounds do not allow you to cut or move wood from the area or even bring your own wood sometimes. Double check before purchasing or moving anything! Make sure to put your fire out before going to bed and never any fire unattended. Forest fires often result in the carelessness of individuals. Don’t be that guy….

  7. WILDLIFE

    Some campgrounds are smack in the middle of bear country. This should definitely not alarm you, i’ve camped in these areas and have never seen a bear. There are also great ways you can avoid seeing bears and other critters, if that sort of thing scares you. First, do not leave ANY food out…. Not even 1 bean! Make sure you pack it all back into your car for the night, wash all areas down, and do not leave trash laying around. Second, DO NOT put ANY SORT OF FOOD into your tent. I put Oreos in my tent for a whole 5 minutes (because hello…. I wanted Oreos!) and even after I took them out and put them back into my car… a Raccoon literally unzipped my tent and went sniffing around for them. Learn from my mistakes please. Three, DO NOT KEEP ANY TOILETRIES IN YOUR TENT. I’ve heard bears love deodorant. Four…. You are sleeping within a wild area and therefore, you may just see bugs and critters. Please do not feed any of them and keep your distance. As cute as it is to feed a duck or squirrel, you’re inevitably harming them by getting them used to humans and human food. Once they associate humans with food, they’ll go after them often and not everyone is nice. Other than that, human food does not provide them with the necessary nutrients they need. Let the animals stay wild and let them be!

  8. CHAIRS

    Bring them…. You’re welcome.

  9. TOILETRIES

    More often than not, someone forgets it. They forget napkins, towels, tooth paste, toilet paper, soap, whatever! This is far from a hotel and sometimes, campgrounds don’t even have toilet paper! Call in advance and pack what is necessary! We always forget towels!

  10. LIGHTING

    Yep…. there aren’t any bright spotlights where you’re going. Pack lanterns, head lamps, flashlights, whatever floats your boat! Headlamps are my favorite because they allow you to stay hands free but try not to blind everyone.

 

BONUS

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Don’t be afraid to GLAMP. Bring an inflatable mattress with comforters and sheets for extra comfort! And of course…. Bring wine or beer! Make sure your campsite allows alcohol and always buy aluminum or glass containers so you can recycle them later! Being outdoors is relaxing as it is, having a glass (or bottle) of wine is the cherry on top! 😉

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How Birdwatching Changed My Life

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Osprey and Barn Owl feathers I got tattooed!

I’m sure many read that title and thought “uhm… what? How can looking at birds change someones life?” But hear me out…

Picture me, a person so detached from reality that I wasn’t even aware I was really depressed or anxious. I thought I just needed to finish school and get out of debt and i’d be okay. I spent all my spare time looking at my phone and thinking about the future. I was focused…. focused on what my life would look like after graduation or after I moved out of Miami or after I finally had a big butt and a six pack. Do you ever do this?

These are common thoughts that many young adults have. This is what society teaches us. Graduate high school, go to college, get a degree, get a job, buy a house, have a family, die. So more often than not, we just sit around waiting for these things because we believe it’s going to bring us happiness. This was my case. Waiting for something to bring me happiness.

So here I was, a college student who had just quit her job to finish school and FINALLY feel happy after that. The day after I quit my job I went on a road trip with my boyfriend and friends. We visited West Virginia where our campsite was pretty out there in the middle of nowhere. One morning, I woke up to my friend saying “Tasha! Wake up and come look at what’s outside your tent!). I get out and there’s a gorgeous Barred Owl flying from tree to tree in our campsite. After witnessing this curious bird maybe 10 feet away from me, I was hooked.

Fast forward a few months while I was taking Ecology of South Florida and learning about different ecosystems and species, I started venturing to wild places in search of birds. I knew I was birding but I didn’t know JUST how serious it was to me until I visited one of the best birdwatching sites in South Florida, STA 5/6.

STA 5/6 is a stormwater treatment area near Clewiston, FL that provides some of the best habitat for birds! Just on the drive there, we saw a Bobcat, Bald Eagles, Crested Caracaras, and a bunch of different hawk species. After this day, I never looked back and began birding every single week.

I’m sure you’re still wondering, okay well how does this change someone’s life? I’ll tell you how:

How Birdwatching Changed My Life

It forces you to put the phone down. 

You can’t look for wildlife while staring down at your phone or scrolling through instagram. You miss all the great birds doing this. While birdwatching all of your attention is on the trees or grass or water that you’re scanning for a few beaks.

It forces you to use all of your senses. 

When you’re looking for birds, you need to use all your senses. You need to look for flashes of feathers deep in the trees, you need to open your ears and hone in on that call you’ve never heard before. You need to feel where the wind is coming from so you can catch all the migrates that are being pushed to shore. If you want to do some active meditation, birdwatching is a good way to start!

It forces you to stay present.

You’re not thinking about what tasks need to get done at work while you’re birding. You’re focused on the birds and wildlife that you’re most probably listening to but can’t see. You’re forced to stay present and keep walking in the hopes that you’ll see 30+ species today. It’s an awesome way to focus on the now and not the things that possibly give you anxiety.

You spend most of your time outdoors.

Well… you’re not gonna find a lot of wild birds indoors are you? Birdwatching takes you to the wildest and most beautiful places, from beaches and islands to the arctic and old growth forests. If you want to start spending more time outdoors, birdwatching is your hobby. Not only will it give you the itch to travel more but even when you’re stuck in your hometown, you’ll want to go to a local park in the hopes that you’ll see a lifer!

You meet the weirdest and coolest people.

As with many odd ball hobbies…. you’re gonna meet some weird people! And these people…. have stories! Some have traveled to the very tip of Alaska in search for Russian or Asian birds that flew too West. Some have spent months in the Amazon and some have a lifetime of stories with a life list that could make you cringe (I know peeps who have seen 4,000 species of birds). I’m a huge introvert but when I’m birdwatching it pushes me to be super extroverted where I start conversations with complete strangers… and I’m happy to talk to them!

The point of this post is that birding came to me at the perfect time, where I was still an anxious wreck. After committing to birdwatching every week, I noticed a sense of calm within myself majority of the time. This was a huge improvement since I would randomly burst into tears from how anxious and depressed I was. I, myself, didn’t even know what was wrong with me. I thought I was crazy! I’m sure many people feel this way and I only want people who were in a similar situation to take control of their anxiety/life and feel pure happiness. Maybe it’s not birdwatching, but I’m sure there is a hobby you enjoy that can give you similar results!

Leave a comment below with a hobby that you’re thinking of pursuing! Let me know if you’ve ever had similar struggles and what you’ve done (or thinking of doing) to help yourself!

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30 Ways to be Eco-Friendly

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In the new world that is the United States of America today, I thought it would be a great opportunity to write this post. While our government is currently being filled with money hungry officials who truly have no regard for the environment, the species that inhabit this Earth, or the future of our food, climate, and livelihood, I think this is the perfect time to reflect on what YOU can do to create a better world for yourself and future generations.

I have compiled a list of ways to become more eco-friendly, both conventional and not so conventional ways. Personally, I do not do every single item on this list, but I do some and I plan on participating in more soon. Also, I am not saying you need to do everything on this list. Please find what speaks to you the most and GO FOR IT! If we sit around and wait for the government to make changes, nothing will happen. Start with one thing and once you’re comfortable, start another!

The people who are crazy enough to believe they can change the world… are the ones that do. So please, if you care about this Earth, make a change!

  1. Limit meat consumption, even if it’s just once a week or only cutting red meat. Anything helps! (Red meat tends to have a bigger impact on the environment.)
  2. Limit seafood consumption. Most seafood is harvested unsustainably and is filled with plastic. Also, most seafood is labeled as something else that may be high in mercury.
  3. Eat meat/seafood you’ve harvested or know the person who did! Ask questions about their methods.
  4. If you do eat meat/seafood, buy from a local! Again, ask questions about their methods. Visit the farm, see what kind of environment the animals live in, what they eat, etc.
  5. Refuse single use plastic. Buy a refillable water bottle, carry utensils, cloth napkin, stainless steel straw, container, and ask restaurants to use that instead!
  6. Avoid plastic altogether and go plastic free. Purchase glass/stainless steel everything! This lasts longer, doesn’t leach nasty chemicals into your food/body, and is better for the environment.
  7. Recycle, Reuse, Reduce! Buying items that are meant to be used once or that will break easy are a waste. Think about the oil, gas, chemicals, labor, etc. that was needed to create it before purchasing.
  8. Carry a cloth bag at all times to avoid single use plastic bags. Think plastic = OIL!
  9. Go zero waste!
  10. Clean up any trash you find.
  11. Bring your own coffee mug to the coffee shop instead of getting a to-go cup.
  12. Do research on ecotourism (zoo, aquarium, farm, etc.) before visiting. Not everyone has the best interests! Many of the attractions that seem to care about animals or the environment, really DON’T. Do your research! Remember, wild is always best but if the animal cannot be released back into the wild, ASK WHY BEFORE VISITING. Many are taken from the wild, drugged, etc.
  13. Visit national parks, national forests, wilderness areas, wildlife refuges, wildlife management areas, and LEARN ABOUT IT!
  14. Leave animals WILD, don’t hand feed any animal, and let nature BE. Admire from a safe distance.
  15. Turn off all electronics when not using.
  16. Refuse fast fashion and buy thrifted items or buy from a local and/or eco-friendly brand! Fast fashion not only harms the environment but exploits people and places. Ask where your shirts are made and BY WHO!
  17. Walk somewhere!
  18. Bike somewhere!
  19. Donate to an environmental organization.
  20. Compost. Don’t just throw away paper, cardboard, produce, make soil out it!
  21. Grow your own produce. Even if it’s a small herb garden on your window sill, you’re limiting the carbon dioxide emitted from transported food by growing our own!
  22. Buy local in season produce. Again, limiting carbon dioxide emitted from transporting food. Believe it or not, most of our food is grown overseas!
  23. Refuse palm oil! This is found is literally EVERYTHING, and is being grown unsustainable in Indonesia. What are they using to grow palm fruits to make the oil? AN ENDANGERED RAINFOREST. This rainforest is the last place on Earth that has orangutans, rhinos, tigers, and elephants. Download the Palm Oil app which will tell you if the product you’re about to buy features sustainable palm oil!
  24. Buy rainforest alliance coffee. Find more info. here.
  25. Buy bird friendly coffee. Find more info. here.
  26. Go birding! (yep, I went there.)
  27. Learn about your local ecosystems.
  28. Volunteer to clean up a park, beach, etc.
  29. Volunteer at a national park, wildlife refuge, rehab center, etc.
  30. Contact government officials about environmental concerns. While many think this won’t do much, the more people who voice their opinions, the more likely we will see change. I have contacted my state senator more times than I am proud to say and I don’t plan on stopping.

I hope this list inspires some type of change! If you have any methods to be eco-friendly, please share with me in a comment below!

How To Find Your Passion

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  Excitement is the more practical synonym for happiness, and it is precisely what you should strive to chase. It is the cure-all. When people suggest you follow your “passion” or your “bliss,” I propose that they are, in fact, referring to the same singular concept: excitement. This brings us full circle. The question you should be asking isn’t, “What do I want?” or “What are my goals?” but “What would excite me?””

— Tim Ferris’s

This quote really resonated with me. For those who know me personally, I’ve been on a roller coaster during my early twenties. I tied my happiness to my career choice and when I didn’t feel satisfied I took a few steps back and tried again… and again… and again. This eventually lead to some pretty intense anxiety and depression. If you’re struggling to find what truly makes you happy, ask yourself “what makes me jump out of bed?”

Most people focus on what is most rewarding or what earns the most money or even what they’re good at. All of these are valid questions to ask, however, none truly matter as much as what makes you feel excited and gets you out of bed!

While in college, I changed my major multiple times (4 to be exact!) based on what I thought would make me happy. I failed to realize that there was one thing that I was interested in for years and would find myself reading on the subject during my spare time. This was the exact subject I would end up graduating with.

It honestly doesn’t matter what anyone tells you to do or to study or what job you should get. It honestly doesn’t even matter if you’re good at something or not (although that helps!). You need to choose something that will make you the happiest and most excited for life. The talent, money, and success will come with it!

When I first started college, I had no interest in figuring out my passion or even thinking about it. I just wanted to party and hang out with the wrong people. This eventually resulted in crazy anxiety about school, since I wasn’t where I truly wanted to be. I began to hate school, thinking I didn’t need it, and even started my own business (queue Radioactive Flamingo!). I don’t regret my choices because I learned valuable skills that I am currently using, but had I known my true passion, I would’ve wasted less time worrying and more time enjoying life, like I currently am.

So how on earth can you find your passion? Sit down with a pen and paper. Ask yourself, what makes me excited? What interests me? If you’re still having a hard time, look for what you spend your free time doing. Do you read? If so, what subjects are these books? Whether that’s fitness, make up, or birds, dive deeper into this and see where it takes you! You may just surprise yourself.

Florida Keys Wild Bird Center

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As a kid, my parents would drive down to the Florida Keys from Miami every few weeks so we could enjoy the ocean. My sisters and I were really born mermaids because we spent so much time out in the ocean, whether in Haulover Beach, Biscayne National Park, or the Florida Keys. However, one of my favorite things to do when down in the Florida Keys was visit the Wild Bird Center in Tavernier. It’s a small sanctuary for injured birds but it had a huge impact on me since you got to see a wide variety of birds up close. The last time I actually visited the center was over ten years ago so I decided to take advantage of my winter break and visit again. If you can appreciate wild birds such as hawks, owls, egrets, pelicans, song birds, and even seagulls than this is definitely the place for you.

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Most of the birds in the center cannot be returned back into the wild such as their resident Blue Jays, Flip & Flop, which were extremely friendly! However, many other birds are simply recovering and regaining strength to be released back in their natural habitat. This aviary was filled with all types of song birds such as Doves, Blue Jays, Mocking Birds, and even the beautiful White-Crowned Pigeon who’s northern most habitat is the South Florida, mainly the Florida Keys.

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My personal favorite part of the sanctuary is the variety of birds of prey they have such as this Short-Tailed Hawk. The sanctuary also features Red-Shouldered Hawks, Cooper’s Hawks, Great Horned Owls, Barred Owls, and even a Barn Owl. Most of these birds are permanent residents. As an animal lover, it can be heart breaking to see such incredible animals in these small aviaries when compared to the large open spaces they could be flying out in the wild. At the same time, one must understand that these birds were either hit by cars, shot by some asshole, or found entangled in fishing line/trash but was thankfully found and taken in by this wonderful center! (Don’t be that asshole and pick up your trash, fishing line INCLUDED!)

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As someone who has loved wildlife and nature all her life, I can say that this place is a haven for most birds. Many of these birds are becoming threatened due to habitat loss and pesticide use. Pictured above is a Cooper’s Hawk, which can often be seen flying in suburban areas. Personally, there is one that often flies around my neighborhood looking for a nice meal. Next time you’re taking your dog for a walk, I encourage you to look up and see if you can spot one! (THEY’RE AWESOME, LOOK AT THOSE EYES!)

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Once you travel towards the back of the sanctuary, you’ll see a Vulture aviary and a larger aviary filled with aquatic birds such as Pelicans, Seagulls, Cormorants, Limpkins, and Egrets. The boardwalk will also take you towards the Bay where many Pelicans will be waiting for your arrival. You’ll also be able to see a beautiful wetland filled with Black Mangroves and fish.

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Next time you decide to travel down to the Florida Keys, I definitely recommend visiting this wonderful place. It’s a short visit and I’m sure you’ll leave inspired to look for these awesome birds in your neighborhood! The center is also completely donation based and is always in need of items such as pet carriers, wire cages, towels, sheets, baby blankets, heatings pads, gauze, cotton swabs, and the list goes on and on. You can visit their website http://www.keepthemflying.org for more information.

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I hope you enjoyed reading all about this awesome place! Now get off your phone and go outside.

-Tasha Adventures