10 Holiday Depression Busters: Making Yourself OK

As the holidays gather momentum, it can seem that everyone is having a holly jolly time but if “everyone” is not the category you’re currently in, know that you are not alone.

This article is personal – as in been there and still doing that – and I’m hoping that some ideas that have aided me in the past few weeks, might help those of you out there feeling blue.

A big moment came for me back in November when I realized that manufactured expectation was perhaps the biggest factor in increasing holiday stress and melancholy. We can credit commercials and social media with manufacturing the expectation or vision of our holidays but when that expectation proves unattainable, it could be time to haul it right out of the mall and off of the Christmas card ads and take it the heck back. Specifically speaking, I realized that it is looking like I will spend the holiday without my four kids due to work/financial obligations and this fact could appear sad at first glance, however, sad in this case – I came to realize – is in the eye of the beholder.

The bigger picture, when examined closely, had me beholding kids that are all on thrilling journeys, following the things in life that they are passionate about and adventuring all over the world. This is cause for celebration not grief and I remind myself of this any time I start to feel heartache.

I am acutely aware that there are plenty of people navigating supreme suffering. People out there walking through profound loss of loved ones, financial instability, and/or job stress as well as uncertainty about the future. A number of these people have, in recent times, rocked my being with their ability to reframe their circumstances and find a new way to shape their expectations. A single, elderly man who has no family (both children are dead as well as his wife) a week ago, admired my humble Christmas tree and warmly remarked “your decorations are beautiful and I think it’s going to be a beautiful holiday this year”. This man’s statement stilled me to my core and encouraged me to examine my previous holiday expectation.

After some pondering, I discovered a new uplifting idea. What if I removed the words exciting, busy, hectic, gifts, parties and shopping from my holiday and replaced them with the elderly man’s one word? The word beautiful. And then I gave some thought to new definitions of holiday beauty, definitions beyond kids gathered around the tree, Santa, and revelry. I exhaled into this idea of beauty and just let it be and a different picture began to form. A quiet image of beauty outdoors took hold and a dream to snowshoe unfolded.

At this time, I think my vision can take a seat and yours should come to the podium. If you remove familiar/predictable holiday expectations from your mind, what opening is possible? Could it be a day that involves a simple activity that brings you joy? Would it be possible to connect to people who also are searching for their vision? Maybe a unique observance of your holiday is waiting for you to create it and all that is needed is the first step.

If a first step is well…the first step, please feel free to take the following suggestions and start a plan that is right for you. Use the ideas as a template or fuel for your creativity. And if you hear a misfit has gone missing in the wilderness on Christmas, please follow the snowshoe tracks and bring coffee.


1) HUMOR – If you end up flying solo, I cannot stress enough my belief that humor can be your best friend and I am speaking from direct experience. For the past few months I have watched tons of stand-up comedy on Netflix and it has buoyed my spirit when times were tough. Free movies are available at the library and I also have relied heavily on hilarious books.

2) POTLUCK – Host a misfit Christmas (finances are also a misfit? POTLUCK!)

3) HIKE – Go hiking and if you don’t want to be alone, put out a call on social media.

4) MOVIE – Gather some buddies for a movie either at a theater or have everyone bring snacks and watch at home.

5) READ – Read a great book! If you like short stories/essays, I recently released THE THINGS I CANNOT DO, a Kindle collection of humorous/sentimental essays that are free for Kindle Unlimited and $4.99 for reg. Kindle.

6) BATHE – Yes, take a hot bath and I recommend Aura Cacia lavender oil and Tazo tea to sip while you soak.

7) CONNECT – Connect with your neighbors! Make fliers, and put them up for a neighborhood wine or coffee walk. We did this several times and it was a hit, with entire families and doggies joining in and bringing their own drinks on the walk-about.

8) CREATE – Go to the craft store and grab some art supplies and spend some time getting in touch with your inner artist. Vision boards are easy and fun (cut out dreamy ideas from magazines and glue on foam core poster board in collage form) and if you make it more reasonable, shelving the high-end, fantasy wishes like cars and clothes, and instead focus on more easily attainable ideas, the good juju will flow.

9) GIVE – Now this will sound a little extreme but here you go, grab inexpensive fun snacks and just walk around areas where people are working and hand them out while shouting a joyful personal greeting. Ideas for snacks could be clementine oranges, apples, candy canes with sealed teabags tied on.

10) ACKNOWLEDGE – This goes with the idea above. If you feel lonely or down, it can help to trick your emotions by handing out positive energy (I have done this before and it worked). Just walk up to the people at the market or anywhere else open on holidays and thank the employees.  Don’t let finances hold you back if they are scarce, your words are a gift. It is perfectly lovely to walk into a hospital/urgent care/grocery store/quick mart/ and just say “Hey, thank you so much for being here today. Just wanted you to know I am grateful”. Also wave and smile at everyone!

And that brings me to this…thank you. 2014 was greatly enhanced and I often was hugely lifted up by readers of On A Dime and their stories. So I would add (courtesy of an On A Dime adventurer named Mike B.) that the best thing you can do this holiday and coming year is to connect with people that support and partner with you in appreciating, continuing, and embarking on the journey.

**Have your own ideas/personal holiday beautiful experience? Feel free to share here or on our Facebook page.

Top 5 Adventure Gift Sites: If Ya Can’t Beat ‘Em, Join ‘Em, On Your Terms

Like spawning salmon, we’ve entered a season where we find ourselves swimming mightily in search of something that is almost beyond our understanding.  This shopping season can be a difficult beast to navigate but On A Dime believes it can be tamed.

Today we’re keeping our taming simple and posting some links to aid in shopping for the adventurer in your life. We realize no commission or gain from these sites, we’re only passing them along in the hope that you experience a more relaxed version of what can be a very stressful and chaotic time.

Next week we’ll talk about ways to banish the seasonal blues but heads up, begin by creating a budget and sticking to it. This can make all the difference in the world. We know first hand as we’ve had both the success and the fail-years in this pursuit.

So, cover us, we’re going in.

1) GEAR TRADE – Discount gear and this site is in keeping with our On A Dime spirit.

2) GREAT OUTDOOR DEALS – Daily coupons and discounts on gear.

3) REI OUTLET – Through Monday Dec. 1st coupon for 30% off of one item. We swear by REI’s integrity and customer service.

4) SIERRA TRADING POST – Discounts in effect and some hefty sale items.

5) CAMPSAVER – Deals and promotions happening right now on gear.

*We shared 5 sites that you can shop from without having to pull into the mall parking lot but we also want to share a sixth that allows you to not have to pull out your wallet.

6) SHARE – no link for this. We’re talking gear exchange and/or gear co-op. Reach out and connect with a hiking/camping community or stir it up and try for the creation of one via social media and share gear. I’ve loaned my gear and gone on combined trips where everyone contributes. This will encourage camaraderie as well as a healthier pocketbook. You deserve moments of Zen and they are possible with a little planning. Skip shopping for a bunch of shiny object/junk in December and instead shop for like-minded friends that shelve the toxicity in their lives in favor of healthy, creative pursuits and you are on your way.

Feel free to “like”/share to Facebook and/or Tweet if you’d like. We’re always grateful.  🙂

6 Reasons To Try A Hostel

Teri’s collection of hilarious essays are on Amazon! Grab them now!

Hostels are no longer just for college kids traveling Europe, they are for everyone and everyone is taking notice. If you doubt it, check out Hi Hostels/Hostelling International. Hostels can be found in a large number of locales with new ones being added constantly.  They are worth exploring and that’s a fact.

We’ve bunked right outside of Yosemite and climbed Half Dome and Nevada Falls, walked the black sand beach at the Marin Headlands, beachcombed and hot-tubbed at the base of a lighthouse, on the ocean at Pigeon Point. We’ve enjoyed the incredible views at Point Montara, got our Zen on at the Point Reyes Hostel, and swung energetic in the bustling beach town of Santa Cruz. Whatever you crave, there is a hostel for you.

Below we’ve compiled 6 reasons to check out a hostel as well as six different California hostels we’ve visited and recommend.

1) Save Money – Flat out, they are cheaper than hotels in almost every single case.  We stayed oceanfront along Pacific Coast Highway in California for under $80 a night for a private room, shared bath, at a lighthouse.

2) Family Friendly – Yes, we have found them to be family friendly with the ones we’ve booked offering private rooms. Also available are full/community kitchens if you like to cook. We had homemade seafood chowder that I brought along in the cooler when we visited San Francisco and then walked on the black sand beach at sunset, again under $80 for a private room.

3) Experience Culture – You will absolutely encounter people from all over the world and if you enjoy socializing, there are always fellow travelers looking to exchange information on hot spots in any city. If hearing a multitude of other languages floats your boat like it does mine, you will be in for a treat.

4) They’re Clean – With the exception of one individually owned hostel not up to par on cleanliness, we found them all to be clean and well maintained. That said, they are not slick and formulaic like hotels, however, HI Hostels has raised the bar on the many they run and decorated them beautifully.

5)  Reservations Accepted – You can plan ahead and grab private rooms or fly by the seat of your pants and hope for an empty spot as dorm rooms are more easily snapped up on short notice during peak times.

6) Amenities Abound – These are not stark dorm-style accommodations. Hostels are varied and offer fun individual perks so always ask. There is a day spa at the Yosemite Bug that is very relaxing and cost-friendly, offering massage, yoga, and herbal baths as well as a cafe that sells beer and wine for your post-spa spirits while the Pigeon Point Hostel ponies up an ocean-side hot tub that is for rent by the hour and it’s located at the base of a lighthouse.

Below are the hostels we’ve stayed at and enjoyed in California. We’d love to hear of your experiences staying in hostels and your tips for creating a successful get-away by utilizing this money-saving alternative.

“Like”/share to Facebook or Tweet if you wish. We’re always grateful. 🙂

Point Montara Hostel

Limontour sunset (1)This beach is ten minutes from the Point Reyes Hostel

Santa Cruz hostel

Santa Cruz Hostel (check times allowed in rooms on this one)

Black Sand Beach at sunset

Black Sand Beach, 5 minute walk from the Marin Headlands Hostel which is minutes from San Francisco

Early morning view of the bridge from the Marin Headlands

View of the Golden Gate Bridge from the Marin Headlands hiking area

Pigeon Pt.Pigeon Point Hostel

Bug 002

Yosemite Bug hike to the seasonal waterfall

5 Ways To Keep The Adventure Alive

Today’s article is dedicated to keeping the adventure alive.

We all love our time away, our vacations, and weekends. And then Monday rolls around and we drum our fingers until the following Friday. I realized this repetitive cycle was a draining experience quite awhile back and set out to transform it. These are the little things I discovered and they have truly shifted my mood when I am not hiking a trail or road-tripping and my fingers start drumming.

1) PHOTOS – I cannot stress enough that every single person, no matter their photographic ability, comes back from an adventure with at least one photo they love. I know because I see them on Facebook. So here’s my suggestion, print your piece of art and put it where you can see it. My guy – at the urging of his brilliant gal – just enlarged a number of his prints, had them mounted on gatorboard – this is foam core photo backing, black looks best – and he hung them in his office. Friends, Fed-Ex/Kinkos offers this service if you need to really save money but you can also visit your local photo developer and have them mount your photo/s. Do this for yourself, you deserve it. *The gatorboard link I provided is to the lab I’ve used successfully for over ten years. I realize no compensation for mentioning them. The photo above of Convict Lake is the first thing I see every morning when I wake.

2) TRINKETS – We’ve all done it, bought a trinket on a trip, arrived home and then couldn’t figure out what to do with it. Put it on a shelf and if you really want to make an impact, collect similar objects or multiples but stay simple so as not to overwhelm. What the heck do I mean? A tumbleweed. Yep, I have always loved these thorny weeds and lucked into one rolling by in a horrendous wind-storm in Nevada and voila! This was my trinket and I love seeing it every day perched atop my bookcase where it can’t nail me with thorns. I also have collected rocks – not from parks that ask that you take only pictures but rather from the roadside – in the middle of nowhere. I have some granite from the side of highway #395 that I cherish like it’s gold.

photo (4)

3) COLLAGE – These are easy and fun. I am sharing a collage my daughter created on the artist Frida Kahlo that I display with my kids’ colorful pottery. On your getaways, collect free brochures, napkins, postcards, and your own photos and make a collage on a poster board from the craft store (foam core is best). This is so inexpensive that if you tire of it, just make another one on your next trip and keep rotating them.

photo (3)

4) JOURNAL – Keep a beautiful journal on your bedside table and enjoy reading back over trip entries. It’s great to just jot down family/kid quotes throughout the trip. One of my favorites was courtesy of my daughter who was in grade school at the time and wrote down that she and her sister had decided that I overruled their booty shorts because I was jealous of their bodies. I guarantee you that what you read later will be funnier and funnier with each passing year.

5) PRESENT – We all read the “be present” platitudes, with the flowers and butterflies, via social media, and we “get” it but darn-it, it can be hard when you’re exhausted and need some down time. We’re very present to that. So try and just hunker down in your cozy bed and grab moments of in-town adventure. Read a great book (Wild: From Lost To Found On The Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed or Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer) or watch your favorite adventure/landscape movie or documentary (libraries loan them for free). Brew some tea, pour a glass of wine and light candles or incense (I just heard my candle-loving guy cough “hippie” over the incense suggestion). And finally, go ahead and begin thinking of your next adventure. Many popular campgrounds book out as early as six months in advance so a December holiday gift – from you to you – could be reservations for Big Sur for May and now we are not just talking “being present” but also receiving a wonderful present!

Create a living space that reinforces and celebrates what rocks your soul. Fan the flame of adventure, travel, and exploration by appreciating the roads you have traveled thus far. Your journey is ongoing and rather than experience it in snippets of singular getaways, strive to incorporate your moments into your permanent daily living. This will enrich your life and expand your gratitude and that is the best souvenir of all.

Feel free to “like”/share to Facebook and/or Tweet. We are always deeply grateful. 🙂

It’s Almost Never Too Late

I originally titled this It’s Never Too Late but then I realized that never is all too often used in conjunction with some broad-sweeping platitude and that – in fact – sometimes it is too late. So an example would be that, while I know it is too late for me to be mistaken for Laird Hamilton I have tried surfing. Amazing how much saltwater ingestion the body can bounce back from. I also came away with a board burn but for about three glorious seconds I was Laird, riding giants (whitewash) and as I catapulted sideways off the board I enjoyed a moment of role reversal as my teen daughter (who’d been holding the back of the board) cheered me on like a toddler taking a first step. My vision of pro surfing future dimmed but my vision of pro fish taco eater brightened and all was well with the world.

 It’s the vision that sometimes stops us before we even get started, the one that has us peskily knowing that we are not pro material and then prevents us from grabbing even a slice of our version of adventure. Today, I say… “malarkey” (my late dad’s favorite expression). Malarkey to the idea of a vision because an adventurer is in the eye of the beholder. I know this due to the fact that I now behold myself to be an adventurer and I am the most unlikely of the unlikely to claim this title.

 Athletics was the bane of my childhood existence. I was that kid in PE that never was picked for a team because I was hiding in the bathroom, I was that kid that mistakenly joined the tennis team and had never played tennis – Hello! Finally, I matured and I was that adult that was put in charge of driving my dad’s golf cart and almost drove it off the course but damn if sports wasn’t finally fun. And then age forty rolled around and this mother of four first discovered depression and then happened upon a distraction from said depression by jogging (depending on your definition of jogging). This new sport was successful enough that I conquered the stitch in my side and upped the ante by stumbling clumsily toward a crazy idea of climbing Mount Whitney.

 I’ve talked about this before on the site but want to expand by sharing that I did not find my inner brave goddess, I ended up climbing Mount Whitney solo completely by accident. The hiker that was set to go with me backed out and I first tried drowning my disappointment in a half a bottle of wine, coupled with whining inwardly for the better part of several hours, and then I put the bottle down and had a tipsy yet lucid idea. I would go it alone. After several long months of prepping and reading up on Whitney, I felt a tiny glow of defiance and determination start to burn. I fanned that flame and about seven weeks later, gathered my supplies and drove to Lone Pine. I did not climb alone because I was courageous; I climbed alone because I was angry. I was mad at politics, religion, the world, and finally when the buck came slamming to a stop, I knew I was most profoundly mad at myself and had been for maybe my entire life. It occurred to me that for once it might be invigorating to channel my dysfunctional self-fury and lack of self-worth into some sort of force that felt constructive.

 My selfish mistake was in not telling anyone I was doing it solo, however, I was scared enough at the thought of climbing alone that I was even scared of being scared and I was certain the well-meaning, warning brigade that I knew would surface, would increase my terror to the point of backing out. What exactly could they potentially scare me with? Only everything from bears to mountain lions to serial killers to cereal killers (otherwise known as thieving marmots). I figured I would make it exactly two miles, be attacked by a serial killer – disguised as a bear or vice-versa – and then after I fought my way out of that one, I would stumble around starving to death while marmots scarfed down my trail mix. I had so many fantasies of derail that I finally decided to ignore Whitney and just focus on getting to the yurt I’d booked on a lavender ranch – yes lavender; people, this is California.

 Delacour Ranch was my home base and with its floral fields and yurts and cabin, it seemed innocent enough. Not so much. I spent night number one in a yurt that felt like a boat in The Perfect Storm as the wind whipped it hour after hour and then – hallelujah – on night two, the owners (at no extra charge) moved me to the delightful cabin that inspired poetry by day and pepper spray by night. I spent the better part of one hour practicing reaching for the pepper spray, unsnapping the holster, getting in position, and making sure I was aiming it away from my face. Yep, it was scary to be alone for the first time but two tail-wagging ranch hounds set up a vigil outside my door and that felt vaguely reassuring though I never could figure out if they were there to keep someone from coming in or keep me from going out. They witnessed the pepper spray study session.

 A little scairt? Yes but, finally out I went (armed with said pepper spray). Horseshoe Meadows, at ten thousand feet, provided excellent hiking, a trial run at altitude readiness, and a plethora of bear warnings. I had the bear protocol memorized and had taken notes and followed the advice on acclimatizing by hiking high and then sleeping low. Delacour is about eight thousand feet so this combo fit the bill. I hiked off and on all day – more off than on – reasoning that I needed to store up my energy. Sleeping at night proved elusive and I told myself it was a common altitude side effect while knowing that it was actually nerves. One courage-builder I had decided upon was to take a practice hike to Lone Pine Lake, which, at about four miles one way, ends at the entrance to the Whitney permit zone. I had the supreme luck of running across two men, loaded to the gills with enormous packs and taking on a multi-day ascent. As I shared my plan and fears they smiled casually and revealed that they had been friends for seventy years and were currently ninety. I suddenly felt better at the realization that surely bears and serial killers would target them over me.

 With a couple of my trail fears seemingly handled, it was now time to collect my permit at the ranger station and check the weather. I felt a little like a female John Wayne as I adopted a swagger, hitched up my six dollar, mens zip-away hiking pants and approached the desk. When I had the full attention of the uniformed mountain man, I shared that I, a lone female, would be taking on Mount Whitney without the benefit of a Sherpa. He stared at me unblinking, literally not a blink, and I wondered if he had been trained to do this as some sort of survival skill required for the job. Finally he raised one eyebrow and assured me that other women had made it up Whitney and lived to tell Oprah all about it but that I should get an early start as bad weather was expected. Mentally bracing myself for a four am start rather than six am, I asked what “early” meant and he said to be in the Whitney zone by midnight.

 “Midnight?” I stammered, all of my John Wayne bravado suddenly replaced by a desire to hide in the bathroom. “Meaning hike all night rather than all day?” I choked out. Yes, that was correct the non-blinker revealed and then added that to plan otherwise would find me morphed into an ice sculpture if the lightning did not take me out first. In one fell swoop I traded serial killers for becoming a Donner party popsickle or a lightning rod. So did I take his advice?

 I was on the trail at eleven-thirty pm after a terrifying exit from my car in a parking lot that I was certain was teeming with bears. My headlamp resembled a laser show and I almost wet my pants before realizing that the animal furtively stalking me from behind was my straw hat swinging merrily to and fro while tied on my daypack.

 Hiking all night turned out to be ok and no bears or killers appeared. The trail only got sassy and disappeared once but I circled for a few minutes (an hour), like some demented squirrel that had been bonked on the head by a car bumper, and then continued onward, passing a campsite and seething  with huge envy at whoever was snoring loudly. I felt many things throughout that night, nervousness, determination, calm, and at times giddiness. What I did not ever feel, was anger. It just evaporated and I was left with an enjoyable energy that lasted all the way until sunrise – at the top of the famed ninety-nine switchbacks – when my “newbie” adrenaline rush, courtesy of believing that the thirteen thousand mark was close to the summit, had me almost skipping. Even with the first hiker – age sixty – I’d encountered all night warning me that it was about to get tougher, I sauntered optimistically around to the back side of the climb and was instantly given a king size dose of reality.

 It was frigid. As it is, I shiver when it drops below eighty and this was a hateful, bullying wind coupled with a most powerful smug shade. I had hit this area before the sun did and berated myself for that yet I knew that the gathering clouds really left no alternative. I was aware that it was time for my big girl pants but damned if I could pull them up, as my hands were now stiff and in danger of frostbite. Adding to the equation was the onset of a headache and it was this moment my new and seasoned hiker friend gave me a directive that would end up delivering the summit. He explained that if I was getting an altitude headache, I needed to breathe deep and try and outpace it. If it started winning the race, I would have no choice but to reverse quickly in order to avoid becoming sick and possibly needing assistance from my non-blinker friend back at the ranger station.

 The next two hours were difficult but I finally stumbled to the top and caught a glimpse of the famed wooden hut. I felt queasy, had a nasty headache, and was past any point of real pride at making it. After a quick selfie, I threw it in reverse and got the heck out of Dodge. This decision to depart the summit ended up working in my favor when I slogged it through freezing rain, down the switchbacks, as lightning popped all around.

 This first Whitney trip left my muscles shredded but that also included my anger muscle and it did not grow stronger. I would be a silly liar or maybe a new self-help success – hmm…dammit – if I said this cured me of all of what ailed me, it did not. I returned with the same shortcomings I had been running from and there were and still are presently challenges to navigate. Some days I feel competent, at peace, and filled with grace but others dawn with self-doubt, turmoil, and major clumsiness.

 The thing that, that first trip up Whitney gifted me with was the simple realization that while I have not been delivered a cure to my own failings, there is a tonic to the turmoil. A vision of calm is found by going into the wild and being fully present to a stunning sunrise or magnificent sunset because for that – attainable vision – it is almost never too late.

 Feel free to “like”/share on Facebook and/or tweet if you wish. Always grateful.   🙂

On A Dime Spirit: The Real Deal ~by Adam Bergstrasser

The Bergstrasser Family

On A Dime Adventure is so very thrilled to have our first guest blog post and it deserves a teeny-tiny back story. We noticed fellow traveler, Adam Bergstrasser generously sharing some of his tips via our Facebook page and as a result, I asked if he’d be open to guest posting. Adam enthusiastically agreed but with the disclaimer that he’d not blogged before so his work might benefit from a possible creative edit. Well, here it is completely untouched because we found it to be perfect. Enjoy the blend of practical advice, coupled with the story of a family that figured out the spirit of On A Dime living long before I ever started my journey. My only addition is the title as I figured Adam would be  too humble to have come up with the one I thought he deserved.

So now without further adieu, meet the Bergstrassers.  ~Teri

On A Dime Spirit: The Real Deal

by Adam Bergstrasser

I’ve always loved the outdoors. When I was a child, my parents often took me camping at a lake outside of Stillwater, Oklahoma. As a teenager I began backpacking and camping in the mountains of New Mexico. I could never afford fancy gear, so most of my stuff came from friends and garage sales. I didn’t care. It was never about having the “right” gear, it was the act of getting away from town and into the wild that I loved.

When I met my wife twenty years ago, I was excited about introducing her to my outdoor world; minimalist camping, long treks, and amazing vistas. I quickly realized that if I wanted to continue this lifestyle, I needed to invest in a few creature comforts. On one payday, I bought a lantern. On another, a folding table. Soon we were packing a minivan to the rafters with all kinds of crazy stuff for each trip, but hey… we were camping! When gas was a buck a gallon, it was something we could afford to do as often as we liked. We took half a dozen mini-vacations each year to the mountains around Albuquerque. It was what we did. It defined our family.

Then I let life intrude. Making money became more important to me than quality time, and I chased construction projects around three different states. I worked seventy hours a week. We took an occasional scenic drive, but the camping gear gathered dust. I became homesick and dissatisfied. One evening in Austin, I came home and told my wife, “Baby… I want to go home.” We talked about the quality of life we wanted for ourselves and our three daughters, and decided that time together outweighed whatever we could buy them with more money. That was a hard decision. I took a 50% pay cut to move back to Albuquerque. It was a very difficult adjustment, but I pictured a time filled with camping trips. Singing around a fire. S’mores. Lots of pictures. Lots of memories for my daughters to carry with them for a lifetime.

When our savings account was almost empty, my wife handed me our last $800 and said, “Go buy us a camper.” She’s so smart. I’d wanted one for years. That 1977 Coleman pop-up saved us. We began camping again and really enjoying it. After a couple years we traded up for a new(er) 1988 pop-up, and proceeded to drag it all over the West. Life was good.

Over the last eight years, we’ve been to some amazing places. We’ve seen sights that I’m sure people pay a lot of money for, and we’ve done it on a very tight budget. How? I’ve used two keys: research and the government. Before every one of our “big” trips, I spend hours, days, sometimes weeks online. I look for the most scenic routes, the most interesting roadside attractions, and the biggest waterfalls. And I key in on all of the properties that I own. That’s right. Public property. National Forests. National Parks. BLM land. It’s my vacation secret. Everywhere we’ve been, I’ve been able to find a place to stay for between zero and thirty dollars a night. It doesn’t matter if you own a nice new camper or a $10 yard sale tent, you can stay at an incredibly beautiful campsite on public lands for free or close to it.

To be honest, I’m not much of a people person. When I camp, I want to be as far away from other folks as possible, so most of our trips are to primitive sites in the National Forests in New Mexico or Colorado. No facilities, no neighbors, and total peace. I even take a trip or two by myself every year. I’ve realized, though, that not everyone is as antisocial as I am. I’ve also realized that some of the best places in nature just happen to have a lot of other people appreciating them, too. If it was up to me, I would just go backpacking, but there are other people making this trip with me. My daughters love little mountain towns with lots of tourist shops. My wife likes waterfalls and showers (which, I learned quickly, are NOT the same thing). So I tailor our trips accordingly. Some wilderness hikes for dad, some tourist towns for the girls, lots of waterfalls for my love, and always with hot showers nearby.

Sure, you can pay a lot of money to stay in a nice hotel or cabin, but did you know that the Forest Service rents out the most amazing mountain cabins all over the West? Yup. They’re so cool. Look it up:

Did you know that for $80 a year you can buy a pass that gets you and everyone in your car into all kinds of federal and state lands for free?

AND all of these places are on a map:

You might have to haul your own water. You might have to sleep on a bunk and use an outhouse. You might have an encounter with wildlife… But here’s the key, the secret, the amazing truth: THESE ARE THE THINGS THAT MAKE MEMORIES! Your kids may not remember another plane flight, another vacation lodge, another trip… but they will DEFINITELY remember that time you burned your eyebrows off trying to start a fire (not that I recommend this)! They will remember that night the tent collapsed around you in a rainstorm. They will remember standing under a massive sandstone arch after a long hike in Utah. They will remember every wild deer, waterfall, and quirky roadside store. Last time I checked, all these things are free.

Sometimes I know I could do a better job as a husband and father. Sometimes I wonder if my choices are the best. But several times a year, I sit by a fire with my family, after a day filled with amazing sights and adventures that I was able to bring my family on because I researched and studied hard. I was very careful with my money. I took advantage of all the free things I could find along the way. I feel full. I feel peaceful. I feel complete. I never, ever, miss or regret giving up chasing a buck. I am super dad.
Happy camping!
-Adam Bergstrasser

Please feel free to “like”/share to Facebook and/or Tweet.

10 Tips For Cold Weather Camping

Teri Clifton’s collection of humorous/sentimental essays, THE THINGS I CANNOT DO, is now available on Amazon!!

Camping in warm weather is lovely and requires little more than a tent and sleeping bag but for those venturing out in chillier weather, a few tricks can make the experience a sublime one rather than a shiver one. *Extra info about gear we’ve used can be found in our permanent camping section.

1) Tent – Truly most any tent will suffice as long as you are not knee deep in snow or truly in extreme temperatures, however, bring or purchase tent stakes and secure your casa down to the ground to minimize unwanted breeze.

2) Sleeping Bag & Mat – This one is important if you chill constantly (I do!) Easy-peasy fix, look at the rating. I’m fine with a 20 degree rated bag that I purchased from REI. Mine is a mummy bag but I will confess that turning over and keeping the head area straight can be a tad irritating so consider this when making a purchase. If you are trying out cold weather camping and borrowing gear is possible – do it – or check into renting. If you embrace sleeping in the wild, go ahead and invest in your bag – mine is like sleeping in a cloud and I am grateful every time I use it. *Zip-together sleeping bags are great for couples. Inflatable mats keep the cold from your body and truly make a big difference but if you are not ready to commit to that cost, place a folded blanket under you for extra warmth and padding.

3) Stove – This is a little tidbit that can make a frigid morning divine. I place my backpacker stove right outside my tent with water and instant coffee at the ready. When I wake I simply lean out and fire up the stove (it is located away from and outside the tent, NOT INSIDE THE TENT). My coffee is made quickly and then I drink it in my sleeping bag, in the tent, if it is too cold to consider drinking it outside.

4) Hand/Foot Warmers – These are a few bucks and I found them on clearance last year in the spring and stocked up. Grab them and pack them in, you will be thrilled, especially when drifting off to sleep sans icicle toes.

5) Pre-cook – This is so important when considering how much longer it can take to create food when your hands are freezing and dealing with water is tear-inducing. I pre-make potatoes with olive oil, seasonings, kale, peppers, and onion in the oven and then pack it up in ziploks. This makes for an easy heat/fry in a skillet rather than cooking from scratch. I also add eggs and make a protein rich, pan scramble for breakfast. Most foods can be pre-cooked and stashed in a cooler and this strategy keeps fingers from frost bite.

6) Stocking Cap/Hat – Some people don’t realize you can double up hats and it will double up warmth. I wear a snug stocking cap and then a mukluk brand hat that ties over the stocking cap. Toasty!

7) Leggings – These are for guys also and I can vouch for the fact that we did not disown cousin Andy when he wore a Jolly Green Giant pair repeatedly for years on camping trips. On A Dime style leggings (used) can be found for a song at thrift stores and for anyone recoiling… two words, washing machine. I have 3 pairs that are all used, in excellent shape, and cost me next to nothing.

8) Fireside – We’ve all envisioned hanging around the campfire while roasting marshmallows and then had reality crash in as we hovered over the fire while plotting with our fellow a campers a way to create a fire ring that we could stand in the center of so our backs would quit freezing. Well, there is an easier solution IF YOU ARE CAREFUL. I place my sleeping bag in my chair and get in, HOWEVER, again I reiterate that you must stay back a little as you do not want errant sparks connecting with your bag. This is obviously not a good suggestion in cases of any wind.

9) Hike – This solution to chill can be a no-brainer. If you get cold, get moving. Night hike a bit in advance of bed to take the chill off before hunkering down in your sleeping bag and get up in the morning and get moving as you will immediately warm up.

10) Car Camp – In any scenario where the cold just gets to be too much, if you have a sleep-amenable car, use it. I drive a teeny Hyundai Accent and slept in it for 5 days recently while in rainy, high elevation as the car was warm and a piece of cake to camp in. A HUGE discovery, if possible, park with your front end slightly elevated. When you lay your front seat back, the incline will work with you to angle the seat flat. I felt like I was sleeping in a bed when I figured this out. If you have the luxury of a back area to sleep in, consider a portable mattress that inflates with a cigarette lighter.

Cold weather camping isn’t for everyone but I am here to tell you that I have awakened to gentle snow and a steaming mug of coffee and felt that there was no better place on earth to be. And I have left at sunrise to hike a bit and seen sites that brought home to me the meaning of the word “awe”. Go ahead, try some camping this fall or maybe even winter and let us know if you come up with any tricks as we are grateful for the community information share.

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The On A Dime Gang Rides Again

The On A Dime Gang rides again? Well, maybe not but I liked the sound of that title so we’re sticking with it. Today, after a couple of readers wondered who made up the motley crew that is On A Dime, I thought I’d give a little transparent (embellished) overview so here we go.

View the direction of Shasta
Teri PCT at Shasta

In Los Angeles – Teri (me) is an ornithologist with a penchant for churning her own butter…. right. I had to look up ornithologist and as for butter, yep, I eat the real deal, salted and straight from Trader Joes.

We’ll start again but, warning, it’s not going to be as fun as an ornithologist.

I (Teri) am an overachieving underachiever  and truly have only come to embrace my “jack of all trades, master of none” psyche in the past year. What this means is that I know where I should be in my life, according to the world at large. I should be a teacher or a nurse or a therapist or a financial analyst (ok, THAT one is hilarious from someone who took 3 attempts to pass Algebra!). Anyway, I finally came to the conclusion that I have zero interest in any of those things and that left me with a tiny amount of what it is that does float my boat. A book, a story, a trail, and a tiny house. In short, I stumbled into a life I am falling in love with by failing miserably at a lot of endeavors I thought made sense and damned if the failing didn’t turn out to be incredible luck. I  found myself looking around and seeing people in my world that were not excited about going to work and not enthusiastic about life, rather they were plagued by physical ailments, emotional baggage, and financial sport (the constant state of coveting more).

So, what prompted On A Dime, which I launched in Feb. 2014 – isn’t “launched” a great word, like we had a marching band and speech by Louis C.K. – sorry, what prompted the site was that the people I came to envy and wanted to be like were the people seeking peace, tranquility, and answers on the road or on the trail. The kind of people  sleeping in tents in the woods. I launched 😉 the site and simultaneously accepted and embraced the fact that I make very little money and I committed to funding the travel by purchasing my clothing strictly used and from thrift stores, practicing minimalism, and eschewing expensive pastimes. I believe that people look just as amazing in hand-me-downs as designer clothes and that stunningly beautiful feelings create stunningly beautiful individuals.

Finally, I now am lucky to know that the best part of On A Dime is when readers share their favorite cost-friendly places and when I hear that someone ventured out and discovered the great outdoors. While I wish it had not taken me 40 years to go adventuring, I am grateful that I found the trail when I did. Better late than never!

And now for the other cast of characters which I will keep a little shorter as they are all overachievers so their bios require less fancy footwork. 😉

Scott & Teri PCH
Scott & Teri Pacific Coast Highway

In Oklahoma – “My Guy” (Scott McEwen) – The reason I refer to him most often as “my guy” is because he is a pretty humble guy and I think he enjoys remaining out of the spotlight, however, he is most certainly the tech half of the team and, as an air traffic control FAA Academy supervisor, On A Dime is in adept hands which allows us to fly high.

The Motley Crew consists of:

Stunning scenery
Andy Bonura in Yosemite

Andy Bonura – My cousin Andy (aka the beard), a wildly talented free-lance photographer/editor, can be difficult to locate as he divides his time between his new home with his even more adventurous mountain biking partner, Carolyn in Colorado and their journeys into the mountains to tear it up. He’s climbed Mt. Whitney too many times to count and run a 50 mile race in New Zealand as well as traversed the backcountry all over Yosemite. His bottomless optimism counters any whiners (cough, cough) and the crew is grateful when he is leading.

17 miles of stunning scenery
Lani 17 miles of stunning scenery

Lani Smith – We’ll keep Lani’s story short as she is not even aware she’s about to be outed. She’s an extraordinary cook of exotic fare and a true free spirit. When she’s not sussing out the latest musical talent in her backyard of Topanga Canyon she can be found rolling into Teri’s car, no questions asked. She simply tosses her pack on her back, grabs some of Portland’s VooDoo Donuts, and starts trekking; she proves invaluable with her super ability to sniff out the best diners as well as annoying with her ability to sniff out the most arduous hikes.

On A Dime Kids:

Lex & Jules
Lexie & Jules

Lexie, a former teacher in France and current curatorial administrator for Los Angeles County Museum Of Art is a Los Angeles resident and an expert on couchsurfing. She has traveled extensively both in the US and abroad and never lets cost derail her. She meets fascinating people all over the world and believes that avoiding the tour-group comfort zone of fellow travelers from your own back yard is the truest way to experience another culture. Her article on Couchsurfing for On A Dime is still one of our most popular posts and almost as welcome an addition as her new Dutch partner Jules, an enthusiastic trekker who has biked all of Italy’s peaks and visited more countries than can be counted on two hands. Lexie and Jules met when they struck up a conversation on a train in Europe, not a surprise, and it’s certain that their future journeys will continue to be filled with the unexpected.


Maddie is a college student in Lake Tahoe, CA as well as both a backcountry Yosemite guide (summer) and snowboard instructor (winter). She is currently pursuing her EMT so if you are hurt in the wilderness, she just might save your bacon but don’t count on her saving you any bacon.

Stop off at Lone Pine Lake right before entering the Mount Whitney permit zone
Waverly at the stop off at Lone Pine Lake right before entering the Mount Whitney permit zone

Waverly is a biology major at San Luis Obispo, CA and enjoys backpacking, surfing, and snowboarding. She blew this mom away when she saved all of her money for an entire year, working three jobs, and went trekking all over Europe, through seven countries in seven weeks. She camped, stayed in hostels, and couchsurfed, a true On A Dime kid.

Mom:Noah 2
Noah Horseshoe Meadows

Noah is a high school junior and while he is not a passionate hiker, he absolutely jumps when he hears of a camping trip, especially one where his camera can be positioned to capture stars or he believes there is a possibility of tarantulas and rattlesnakes. His cunning during a horrendous lightning storm on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon was appreciated by his brave (hysterical) mom.

Hammock time
Bree & Amanda Hammock time

There are many other On A Dime joiners (sometimes victims) and I’d be remiss in not giving them a shout-out so… Bree and Amanda, your cooking and cleaning skills for the old fogies will continue to be appreciated so long as you also continue to not make us feel lame when we (we would be me) are lame and whine for Epsom salts.

And to you, the adventurers out there who have joined the On A Dime community and inspired us, I cannot thank you enough! You have brought excitement and joy to our trail and we feel it. Keep on trekking and rock on and please share with us your stories, we love hearing them!!

Feel free to “like”/share to Facebook. Grateful. <3

Camera Phone or DSLR: Break Out Your Inner Artist

This article, at first glance, might seem to be exclusively a comparison between camera phones and DSLR but I think that has already been covered expertly and extensively. Today’s photo essay goal is to convey the accessibility of easy options for experiencing art through photography. So pull out your camera or camera phone and whether it be flowers or your family – or even tree bark – snap some photos because your inner artist is planning a jail break.

Teri Into The Woods
Into the woods, happy time!

This past weekend, while on a jail break from the city, I hiked a favorite mountainous area and found myself thinking of the complexity and beauty of something as simple as tree bark. Looking at it up close left me wondering about the journey that had transpired, causing whatever state the bark was currently in – no I had not eaten any brownies. 😉

The forest truly is its own life-force, rocking along with specific rules and goals and – for the most part – it rocks along fairly unnoticed.

I hope these photos share that simply pulling out a camera phone or DSLR and pausing to capture something that feels poetic to you, can strip away the chaotic noise in life and provide huge exhale.

*Every photo is labeled according to what it was shot with and all photos are unedited to give a better idea of exactly what I was seeing. I alternated between DSLR – Nikon D90 w/ a Tamron 18-270 lens and I-Phone 4S for ease of comparison but please know that I-Phone (as well as other camera phones) can offer up even more stunning shots, that get closer to DSLR, if you decide to apply some post editing. Once again, these photos are unedited.

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Angel Wings – I-Phone 4S
Bark 2
Morning Light – Nikon D90
Night & Day – I-Phone 4S
Bark 20
Fine Line Aging – Nikon D90

5 Great Reasons To Visit New Mexico

New Mexico is called the Land Of Enchantment and there is no better description so be prepared to be enchanted. A full page on this heavenly place will be added in the adventure tab but for today’s post, we’re simply sharing what we loved when we were lucky enough to get a recent taste of enchantment.

1) CROWDS – Nope, did not have that experience unlike a lot of high profile locales. We visited Albuquerque twice in two weeks, once through the week and once on a weekend, both times in August. No crowds in Cimarron Canyon State Park (camping closed for the winter season) where we camped, however, we were there through the week and we heard summer weekends book out. Taos was a little busy as was Red River but nothing to truly be concerned about. *Note the fall balloon rally takes place in Taos in October.

Old Town
Old Town Albuquerque

2) UNIQUE – We hit upon several stellar experiences and places that were unplanned. Gale Sutton, an amazingly talented photographer, took us through the Albuquerque Photographers’ Gallery and not only shared images that took our breath away but she also provided a colorful and interesting commentary. And as a little gift with purchase, she referred us to the Classical Gas Museum in Embudo, and can we say FREE!

Gasoline Museum
Classical Gasoline Museum Embudo

3) CAMPING – We camped Cimarron Canyon State Park and for $10 a night had a spot overlooking the tiny lake and caught a mess of trout which we prepared for dinner. New Mexico camping is outstanding.

Lakeside camping
Lakeside camping

4) ROAD TRIP – The obvious draw in New Mexico is Route 66 but my discovery was actually Highway #550 as this stretch was beyond beautiful, both when I traversed it in the afternoon and when I reversed course weeks later and enjoyed it at sunrise.

Sunrise #550
Sunrise Highway #550

5) DIVERSITY – If you like to mix it up, New Mexico is a good choice. We had margaritas and mexican food in Albuquerque, watched a craftsman create turquoise jewelry in Old Town, were privy to amazing art in Madrid and got a rocking coffee and tea, enjoyed puffy clouds floating lazily in the sky along the highways, and took an epic hike in Cimarron Canyon. Whether we were watching sunset from the trail or studying thunderstorms on a mountain, the Land Of Enchantment was absolutely enchanting.

“Like”/share to Facebook and/or Tweet if you wish. Always grateful! 🙂

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