Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Q & A about Travel in the U.S. from Down Under

 Kathy Marris of" 50 Shades of Aging" fame wanted to know.
Are you planning a trip to the USA in the future? If so here’s some very detailed and informative information from American author, Linda Ballou. There’s nothing better than getting travel information from a local who really knows her country back to front. I’m sure you will find this Q & A with Linda to be invaluable.

1.Whereabouts do you reside in the United States and how long have you lived here?

Topanga Canyon is an artistic enclave nestled in the Santa Monica Mountains between Santa Monica proper and Malibu. It is as far out of L.A. as I can get without leaving L.A. I have lived in Southern California all my adult life, but only five years in Topanga. I am most familiar with the west coast, the southwest and northwest. I am not expert on the East Coast, so I will stick to what I know best in my answers.
Planning a Trip in USA
Topanga Canyon, Santa Monica

2.What are your thoughts about travel in the US? Do you think that most travellers tend to visit the frequently visited places like LA, NYC, San Fran and New Orleans?

L.A. is a huge tourist destination with Disneyland and Universal City Studios being a big draw for families. Yes, people do visit the cities, but for Europeans and Asians it’s the great open spaces of the wild-west that hold an appeal. I am from Alaska and that is on many people’s bucket list. It is one of the last wilderness areas that supports mega-fauna and abundant marine life. I always tell people who are taking a cruise up the Inside Passage to be sure to visit Glacier Bay. That is an opportunity to get up close and personal to a lot of wildlife. Here is a link to YOU MUST GO AND SEE a piece I wrote about Glacier Bay.
Planning a Trip to USA
Ice Berg in Glacier Bay, Alaska

3.Where would you recommend travellers to the US visit, especially those wanting a different US experience?

The magical formations in the Four-Corner region where Utah, Nevada, Arizona and Colorado intersect is spectacular. The road trip out of Las Vegas to Zion and Bryce that continues on to Capitol Reef, Canyonlands and Monument Valley is incredible. The Grand Canyon is also in this region and worth a peek over the rim. I rafted through the Grand Canyon on the Colorado River and it was one of my most meaningful journeys.
Planning a Trip to USA
Castles in the sky at Bryce Canyon

4.I notice you do a lot of adventure travel so where would you suggest travellers go in the US to experience some “off the beaten track” activities like hiking, horse riding and kayaking.

Guest ranches are a great way to experience the west. They offer a variety of activities, hiking, river rafting and horseback riding. For instance, the Nine-Quarter circle located outside of Bozeman, Montana offers lots of activates. You can horseback ride, or hike in gorgeous country, take a picnic lunch to Yellowstone National Park, or raft the Gallatin River during your week at the ranch nestled in a valley hidden from time. I have stayed at dude ranches all over the west. Go to my site for ARTICLES on ranches that I have enjoyed. is a tremendous resource with listing of ranches all over the U.S.
Planning a Trip to USA
Horseback riding at Jackson Hole Wyoming

5.Describe where you live and what you love about it? What are the must dos and sees in your town/city?

I live in a canyon sheathed in a thick forest. It is part of the Santa Monica Mountain Conservancy, the largest urban preserve in the U.S. I have miles of trails to hike just outside my back door. Even though I live in L.A. I don’t deal with the traffic on most days. I can roll down to the beach which is only ten minutes from me and take a dip in the Pacific. I doubt Malibu is as lovely as your beach, but I feel I have best of both worlds here. My e-book Lost Angel in Paradise is a collection of 32 day trips along the coast of California that I HAVE PERSONALLY EXPERIENCED AND ENJOYED. It is in the Kindle store. You can download it to your phone and have live links to trail heads and restaurants that I mention. The companion print book is now available.
Planning a Trip to USA
Linda in Malibu, California

6.Like Australia, the US is a vast country with huge distances between cities. If I were to do a month long road trip where would you suggest I go?

I would not try to do the whole country in one trip. It is just too vast. A road trip through the New England States is wonderful, especially in the fall. I love the San Juan Skyway, a 125 miles loop that starts and ends in Durango, Colorado. It takes you through some of the most spectacular scenery in Colorado including the trendy Telluride. A side trip to Mesa Verde one of the oldest and best cliff dwellings of the Anasazi on this route is well worth taking in.
Planning a Trip to USA
Found my heart on Mossy Cave Walk in Bryce Canyon
The drive up the central coast on Highway One from Morro Bay, through Big Sur to Carmel is not too shabby. You can keep driving north to Santa Cruz. The stretch of coast between Santa Cruz and San Francisco is delightful. Keep on the coast and hit Point Reyes Seashore and many other high points that are listed in my book on the way to the Oregon Coast. But, why stop there? Keep going north to the Canadian border. It is all beautiful.

7.What is the best time of year to travel to the US? Should I avoid travelling in winter (unless I’m a snow skier)?

Spring through fall would be best for the west (March-October). Sticking to the shoulder season is always good to avoid crowds.
Planning a Trip to USA
Jackson Lake-Mt. Moran Jackson Hole, Wyoming

8.In Australia we have strict gun laws, so the vast population is un-armed. Is it safe to travel through the US, considering the fact that we are unaccustomed to guns?

I think the news plays up the worst stories. I don’t see people toting guns, and I don’t worry about it when I go out. I am more afraid of being killed on the freeways by someone texting. That said, I am for stronger gun control and see no need for heavy military guns to be available to private citizens. Terrorists are active all over the world, not just here. Very sad.

9.I love the coastal areas of my country as we have some of most beautiful beaches in the world. Where in your country would you recommend for beach goers?

The beaches in Santa Barbara are lovely and swimmable. In my book LOST ANGEL IN PARADISE I highlight beach stops along the California Coast. However, the Oregon Coast is windswept, dramatic, easily accessed, and not crowded. However, the currents are strong and the waters are a bit chilly for swimming. I suspect it is much like your Great Ocean Road.
Planning a Trip to USA
Hiker on beach south of Pismo Beach on the Central Coast

10.What do you consider are the best cities to visit in the US?

I get misty every time I cross the Golden Gate Bridge over the San Francisco Bay. There is something about the tangy sea air and the brisk wind that captures my heart. The city itself is vibrant, but it is expensive, so you might want to stay on the north side of the bay in Sausalito or Corte Madera. Take the commuter ferry over to the city. It will drop you off in the business district, but it is an easy stroll to Fisherman’s Wharf. You can catch the famous cable cars from there and tour the city that way. Driving there is madness.
Planning a Trip to USA
Golden Gate Bridge, SAn Francisco
Come and enjoy my little piece of paradise. I will be exploring yours in January 2020. Cheers, Linda

About Linda

Linda Ballou is an American author and adventure travel expert for The National Association of Baby Boomer Women who lives in Topanga Canyon, California. Linda’s mission is to experience as many beautiful places on our planet as she can before they are no more. Travel tales relating her experiences while kayaking, horseback riding, sailing, birding and hiking about the globe have appeared in numerous national magazines. She had great fun collecting travel stories, and profiles of people she met in “naturally high places” for her book, Lost Angel Walkabout-One Traveller’s Tales. In her latest effort, LOST ANGEL IN PARADISE, she shares her favourite day trips along the California Coast.

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Kathy Marris Sheds Light on Down Under

Kathy Marris is my counterpart ‘Down Under.’ She is the author of 50 Shades of Age, a lighthearted collection of stories on being 50 something.  A top blogger for the mature travelers she shares insider tips for travelers in OZ, and favorite holiday spots in striking distance – like Bali.
Australia is on my radar for 2020, so she seemed a perfect source for tips to make my trip more meaningful and less hectic. So, many tour companies have you spending a lot of time in airports zipping around a large country with extremely diverse eco-systems.
I asked Kathy questions that will help me streamline my trip and avoid tourist traps. I have been having a hard time deciding where I want to go because each region offers different experiences at different times of the year.

To help me get my bearings, where in Australia do you live in relation to Sydney?  

I live on the Far North Coast of New South Wales in a little coastal town called Kingscliff which is 815 kilometres north of Sydney. It is around 8-9 hours drive or 1.5 hours by plane.

Which part of Australia would you suggest for the first time visitor?

Sydney Harbor Sail-in
Like your country, the United States, Australia is a vast country and is completely different from north to south and east to west. Most tourists coming to Australia tend to visit the East Coast of Australia, taking in the cities of Melbourne, Sydney, Gold Coast/Brisbane and the Far North of Queensland – Cairns/Port Douglas.
The East Coast is the most populous part of Australia and the cities are diverse from the south to the north, with easy flying distances between them.

What is your favorite region and why?

I may be a little biased, but I love the region where I live now on the Far North Coast of New South Wales. The beaches here are beautiful, very pristine and relatively uncrowded.
The region surrounding the Tweed Coast is aptly named the Green Cauldron because there are mountains, rainforests, volcanic rich soil that is perfect for farming all types of produce, particularly bananas, sugar cane and fruit and vegetables.

What is the best time of year to explore your favorite region?

Summers can hot and humid in this part of Australia, winters are mild but can get cool, so I would recommend visiting in either Autumn or Spring. – October/November or March/April.

What are important sites not to be missed that most do?

Federation Square, Melbourne
In the southern state of Victoria, Melbourne is a very cosmopolitan city with great food, culture and beautiful gardens. A day trip to the Great Ocean Road, around and hour out of Melbourne is a definite must see.
Sydney in New South Wales, known as the Harbour City , is spectacular. The iconic Sydney Harbour Bridge, Sydney Opera House, a visit to Bondi Beach and catching a ferry across the harbor are the must sees.
The Gold Coast is renowned for having some of the most beautiful surf beaches in Australia with mild year round temperatures and heaps of sunshine. It also has several Theme Parks like Sea World, Dreamworld, Movie World and Wet N’ Wild. The lush green Gold Coast Hinterland is also incredible to visit on a day trip.
Brisbane, only a hour’s drive north of the Gold Coast is also a magical city to visit with it’s location on the Brisbane River than is fringed with beautiful parklands, cultural precinct and kilometres of cycling/walking paths.
Cairns located in the tropical Far North of Queensland is also an amazing city with the World Heritage Listed Daintree Forest situated to the north, the Great Barrier Reef, beautiful palm-fringed beaches and warm year round temperatures that enable you to swim and snorkel. Inland is the amazing Kuranda historic train and sky-rail set amongst lush tropical rainforests.
Uluru in Central Australia is also very popular with tourists, but you would need to fly out here as the distance is huge and there’s little to see in the arid inland of Australia.

Go Way travel offers many different self-drive tours. Do you think a first time visitor should tackle driving in Australia? The distances seem vast.

Kuranda Rail
Yes the distances are vast in Australia, but I always believe that driving holidays enable you to see so much more of the “real Australia”, rather than just cities and touristy areas. Melbourne to Sydney is 878 kilometres so this can be accomplished in two days comfortably. Then it’s a similar distance from Sydney to Gold Coast/Brisbane. Driving from Brisbane to Cairns in Far North Queensland, maybe a little ambitious. It really depends on how long you have.

Are there tour companies you recommend for the 50+ traveler?

Without doing some research, I don’t really know of any tour companies in Australia. We have mainly spent our time holidaying in our country in our caravan (trailer).  I would maybe look at Intrepid Travel or Adventure Tours.

Have you been to the Port Douglas/Great Barrier Reef region? Are there tour companies there that you would recommend for that region?

Yes I’ve spent some time in this region and it’s a must see. Once again I’ve never done an organized tour here, as we have always self-driven. There is a company called Experience Oz that do some great tours all over Australia so that may be a good place to start.

I was told November in Port Douglas is the wet season and unbearably hot. Is this true?

Yes the Far North of Australia is very hot, humid and wet in the summer months – December to March. I would avoid travelling at this time.

How do you feel about a side trip to Tasmania?

Tasmania is an amazing island! We have had several trips here touring around in a campervan (RV). However once again, you need at least a week to get around to see all the wonderful sights on this island.
Thank you Kathy for taking time to help me plan my trip. I think readers who contemplating a trip down under can benefit from reading your blog

Linda Ballou is an adventure travel writer with a host of travel articles on her site You will also find information about her travel memoir, Lost Angel Walkabout-One Traveler’s Tales from Alaska to New Zealand, and Lost Angel in Paradise where she shares her  favorite  hikes and day trips on the coast of California.
Subscribe to her blog to receive updates on her books, travel destinations and 

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Hoodoos or Bust

The second leg of my journey in the Red Rock Country of Utah to Bryce Canyon was thwarted.  Highway 9 (the Mt. Carmel Tunnel road), touted as one of the most scenic byways in America which is the direct route from Zion to Bryce was closed due to damage from the heavy rains.
This forced me to do some backtracking to Highway14, a snaking road that winds upward to a breathtaking summit blanketed in snow. I could hear the ice crackling in the creek tracing the Scenic Byway as I climbed ever upward. This detour proved exciting and a less-traveled alternative to get to Bryce Canyon, but it is not for everyone.
Hoodoo Magic
Bryce is famous for its hoodoos, colorful and exotic-shaped rock spires carved by wind and ice. It’s most famous formation “Thor’s Hammer” is located on the floor of the amphitheater which is the heart of the park. White drifts of snow in the clefts’ burnt-orange formations looked like frosting on a carrot cake. The walk along the rim with inspiring views is an easy stroll between Sunrise and Sunset Points. It can be a hike if you chose to go the entire length of the trail.
Castles in the Sky Mossy Cave Walk
Due to heavy snow, the Queens Garden and Fairytale Loop were the only trails open to those who are hardy enough to descend to the valley floor. Going down is easy but returning to the rim can be stressful.
Sensitive to the altitude (8,000 ft.), I chose to take the easier option to Mossy Cave. The trailhead is located outside of the main park off Hwy 12. Tears of gratitude welled as I strolled at the base of the castles in the sky along an energetic river to a waterfall.
I was not denied the thrill of knowing the shady glens and walls laced in maidenhair ferns on the valley floor because of physical limitations. Even though millions flock to Zion and Bryce each year, I was able to find my quiet moments here with Mother Nature. I will return to explore more of some of the best of the Creator’s handiwork that has been preserved for all to enjoy.
Queen’s Garden Trail
Lodging: Ruby’s is the landmark establishment in Bryce offering food, lodging, horseback riding, and more. They are kind enough to allow people staying elsewhere to use their Olympic-sized pool and soothing spa for $5.00.
NOTE: The National Park staff is working feverishly to have the “tunnel road” from Zion to Bryce back up and running by April 30th, but if you are planning a trip to the region I suggest you wait until mid-May. Be sure to check road conditions of the alternate routes before going. There were closures due to late spring storms.
Linda Ballou, has a host of articles and information about her travel books on her site

 You will find information about her novels at

Subscribe to Linda’s blog to receive updates on books, and travel destinations and events.