My 'Zero Waste' Swaps for a More Sustainable Life

‘Zero Waste’ is a misnomer but is the term that gained traction to describe making life choices that create less waste. These choices are more sustainable than some of the more typical options many large conglomerates sell us today.

Much of what you can do is habit and lifestyle changes beyond small swaps. The most impactful changes you can make begin with:

    • Use what you have
    • Reuse, repurpose, and repair what you have
    • Buy second hand
  • Compost
  • Diet: Vegan or eat little to no red meat

In the end, there are many nuances to the concept of zero waste and it’s not all on the consumer and not just about plastic packaging. There is the entire life cycle to be considered: how it is produced (does this exploit the local environment or workers, how much water is used, other resources, etc.), how far it is moved to be used (fuel, weight affect this, etc.), how it is used and for how long, where it goes after it’s use ends. Glass, for example, may be more recyclable than plastic but transporting plastic is lighter in weight and needs less fuel, so sometimes a product in plastic may in some ways be more sustainable especially if it’s a bioplastic or made from recycled plastic. There are many other situations like this as well as greenwashing that complicate things for us as consumers. We just do the best we can and keep learning.

For this post, I am going to list my personal choices that produce less waste and add more as I continue. You can find information in both the “WHY” and “WHAT” tabs. “WHY” is about why I made these swaps and “WHAT” is about what the swaps are plus sometimes a bit about the companies or alternatives. These changes make me feel good about my choices, and that I am voting with my dollar. Fortunately, they also often have more than being sustainable to commend them as well! If you just want my list of swaps and links scroll to the bottom.

I grew up with a family that composts so this was an easy choice for me. You can purchase a compost bin through programs with your local municipality or you may have compost pick-up options.

First Swaps

water bottles and stasher bags

After reusable bags for when out shopping reusable water bottles and coffee mugs are simple first swaps for most people. We all usually own some kind of reusable version already. It’s just about finding what works for us and being sure to carry it with us. Then it becomes even more convenient, better for the wallet and the environemnt.

Carry your water bottle everywhere, to work, the gym, especially the airport! If you feel it takes up too much space there are brands that make silicone collapsible options (there are also collapsible silicone bowls/boxes with tops that are great for restaurant leftovers).

‘Ziplock’ bags are easily replaced these days with many brands creating reusable silicone ziptop bags if you don’t find the glass or plastic Tupperware you already have a good alternative for your uses.

I just stopped using saran wrap and tin foil by using what I had around the house. My saran wrap replacements are dishware that already has tops for it and the silicone bags. If this doesn’t work for you there are bee’s wax wraps that get multiple uses and silicon lids that can work on various size dishes. My tin foil replacement is to just use the trays without it or add a silicone baking mat if needed.

Note silicone products are biodegradable or recyclable when they degrade and cannot be reused any longer.

Specific products pictured that I use or am trying:

  • Store bags: any bag you have works
    • My favorites for groceries are these hard-sided versions because they can carry so much and are easy to fill (may not have the smallest environmental impact but works for me).
  • Water bottle: Swell water bottles
    • Swell is certified B Corp.
    • There are many other options in terms of material, size, and company. I enjoy metal for keeping my drinks cold, there’s also glass, plastic, and silicone.
    • Stojo makes silicone collapsible products that include a water bottle.
  • ‘Ziplock’ bags: Stasher bags
    • Stasher is 1% back.
    • Top-rack dishwasher safe.
    • What you already own Tupperware wise is always best to use but there are many more bag-like options from various brands today some in thinner materials and others that stand open when in use depending on your preferences.
  • Saran wrap: I just use the tops that go with my dishes.
    • Alternatively, you can also try any brand of bee’s wax wrap like Bee’s Wrap (1% for the planet, certified B Corp).
  • Tinfoil: I put food directly on the pan or use silicone baking mats.

Kitchen Items

'paper' towels and cloth napkins

I can’t believe how long it took me to make this swap which it’s so much better than what I was using before! This is one swap even friends who are hesitant to change their products love! Sponges are gross! They make your hands smell after you use them and don’t last very long. Wooden dish brushes scrub better and last a full year, not to mention you don’t have to worry about your hands smelling gross after using. They also make it easy to use a castile soap bar instead of liquid dish soap. The wood brushes are compostable and some even come with just replacing the head so even less is wasted and castile soap is packaged in paper and has less transportation cost.

If you still have trouble with needing to get a good scrub a plastic pan scraper that can last forever fixes that issue and is even easier than using a sponge and won’t scratch your dishes like steel wool.

I switched my dishwasher detergent to pods that don’t use plastic (which would add microplastics to the water) and are packaged in paper. It’s super convenient, takes up less space, and is better for the planet. Boxes of detergent are an alternative as well but I find they can harden sometimes and having the pods avoids that issue for me. I am also going to try their laundry detergent once I’m out of what I already have, so I can order 2 products off the same site.

If you are a heavy napkin or paper towel user it’s easy to switch to using some kind of cloth napkin or towels that can be washed and reused. If you don’t already have something handy to make this swap you can also purchase products that are cloth ‘paper’ towels. My mom had material we used to cut up and hem into ‘paper’ towels shown in the photo.

Specific products pictured that I use or am trying:

  • Sponge: Wood dish brushes
    • The linked version is an option where you just replace the head of the brush which saves even more waste.
  • Dish soap: Dr. Bronners Castile Soap Bars
  • Scraper: Pan scraper
  • Dishwasher detergent + laundry detergent: Dropps
    • There are other brands but this is usually the top choice
  • Cleaning products: I haven’t switched any yet as I have plenty left but
    • You can easily use vinegar and baking soda for most things, and make home mixes for anything else.
    • There are also options that you add water to so the shipping doesn’t have to move heavy water or come packaged in plastic, like: Blueland and Grove Collaborative.
  • Paper towels + napkins: replace with cloth

Bathroom Care

We use so many products to take care of our bodies. My favorite swaps produce less waste but are also made without chemicals and take up less space! I love that I can keep my space clearer and cleaner this way. There are also such a wide variety of options available today to fit anyone’s needs.

For hand soap in the bathroom I use the same Castile bars of soap I clean dishes with or purchase locally made soap so I support small businesses and the product doesn’t travel as far.

Changing my shampoo and conditioner to bars was one of my early swaps. Shampoo and Conditioner today is often liquid in giant plastic bottles and full of chemicals we put on our scalps. It takes up so much space, you’re always running out, and the weight of transporting it adds to its impact beyond the plastic waste (more than 552 million shampoo bottles are used each year!). [I will note here I never used body wash or other fancy skin products so I already used just a bar of soap and haven’t change it]

Swapping to a menstrual cup was also an early swap for me. I had issues using tampons and didn’t love pads either. I debated between period underwear and a cup but felt for me the cup worked in a greater number of situations. This is a huge money saver too! The cup or underwear can last for quite a while and costs a fraction of what you’d spend in a year of pads/tampons. It also takes up much less space (I know I’m repeating myself but it’s lovely in a small house to save space).

Next, I tried to find less wasteful toilet paper. Sadly, my local grocery stores weren’t carrying toilet paper made out of recycled paper even in plastic packaging. I took my search online and found a company that packaged in paper and used recycled paper in their products. I will say this swap is a tiny bit more expensive but the large quantity it comes in is very convenient.

This one took me a bit longer to get to but it shouldn’t have! A safety razor over disposables is fantastic. It is so much cheaper! Upfront you may spend a bit more depending on what kind you think will work for you but blades are dirt cheap and I likely won’t need more for another 15-20 years! I will use leftover disposables when I travel through. I selected a safety razor that is already at an angle and doesn’t put the blade directly on your skin so switching was easier a more traditional style has a bit more of a learning curve but gets a closer shave and is less money upfront.

Target recently started carrying a toothpaste that comes in aluminum (which is almost infinitely recyclable and the stats for it actually being recycled are high) and has fluoride. If you don’t care about fluoride then other options exist in aluminum or as toothy tabs (don’t get them wet though!).

For hand sanitizer, I purchase a product that comes in aluminum packaging that you can ship back for the company to refill making it a closed-loop system. There are other brands that use aluminum without the take-back program as well. There are also a variety of options for travel-size containers including spray options that are refillable.

Specific products pictured that I use or am trying:

  • Hand soap: Soap bars
    • Castile soap like Dr. Bronner’s which can be found at grocery stories
    • Local soap artisans, supporting small local business,es and purchasing a product that doesn’t travel as far.
  • Shampoo, Conditioner, Face Wash, Soap bar holder: Ethique
    • Ethique is certified B Corp, cruelty-free, vegan, 2% of sales to charity, certified palm oil-free, direct trading, living wage, etc.
    • Alternatively, if you prefer liquid products, there are brands that package in aluminum and take back the containers and refill them to be closed-loop, like Plaine. (Earthhero also sells their product)
  • Conditioner: HiBar (I am trying this one soon, you can find at Whole Foods and Target)
    • It is vegan, sulfate-free, paraben-free, phthalate-free, silicone-free.
    • I believe I read somewhere it does still have some ingredients in it some people prefer to avoid but if you only condition the ends of your hair it doesn’t touch your scalp and it’s got great reviews for how well it works.
  • Menstrual cup: Lena Cup
    • Lena Cup is FDA approved, processed chlorine-free, green seal.
    • Alternatively, there are reusable pads or period underwear like Thinx.
  • Safety Razor: Twig Razor
    • Leaf Shave (who makes Twig) is climate-neutral certified.
    • You want something with a good handle length for what you will use it for as well as a way to grip it so it doesn’t slip out of your hand in the shower.
    • A more traditional version is similar to the Butterfly safety razor.
  • Toothpaste: Hey Humans
    • There are also options in aluminum without fluoride (if you prefer not having it).
    • To recycle the tube you need to cut it open and clean it, fold it back up, and place in your recycling.
    • Alternatively, there are toothy tab options like Bites but they are pricy.
  • Toilet Paper: Who Gives A Crap
    • Who Gives A Crap is certified B Corp.
    • I’m hoping to add a bidet to my household as well probably from Tushy.
    • Both brands help build toilets for places in need of better sanitation.
  • Hand sanitizer: Plaine Products
    • Plaine ships their product in aluminum packaging which is recyclable but they also have a program where you ship back the containers and they will reuse them by refilling and sending them out again. They are 1% for the planet, certified B Crop, etc.
    • Sanikind also produces a sanitizer in aluminum without the take-back and they have a travel-size spray bottle that is made from ocean plastic and refillable. They are 1% for the planet.


Deodorant, important enough to get its own section. There are now quite a few options out there depending on what you’re looking for and what ends up working for you that are more sustainable. The nice thing here is these are also all aluminum-free and natural deodorants as well. It does take a little bit of time to adjust and you might smell a bit more at first but they do work! They do NOT include antiperspirant (stops your sweat) but sweating is natural in your armpits and can help you sweat less elsewhere.

I’ve been using byHumankind for months and do enjoy it, some people find Native more effective for them, and I’m going to try the deodorant by Ethique since I already order my shampoo and things there.

Specific products pictured that I use or am trying:

  • byHumankind: 1.6 oz refillable or stand alone
    • byHumankind is aluminum-free, paraben-free, gluten-free, and vegan.
    • The refillable version is NOT plastic-free, it goes in a reusable plastic container and the refill has a bit of plastic in it as well. The stand-alone IS plastic-free using a cardboard tube.
    • The small size makes it convenient for travel, especially the stand-alone.
    • Currently, there are 5 scents for the refillable and 2 scents for the stand-alone.
  • Native: 2.65 oz cardboard tube
    • Native is 1% for the planet, aluminum-free, paraben-free.
    • Native has a wide variety of scents and an unscented option, they even do seasonal varieties.
  • Ethique: 2.47 oz cardboard tube
    • Ethique is certified B corp, 2% sales to charity, cruelty-free, vegan, etc.
    • Currently, there are three scents: Unscented, Lavendar + Vanilla, and Lime + Eucalyptus.

There are plenty of ways to do your own research and find similar products you prefer and much more. This is not an exhaustive list just an attempt to share what I am doing and enjoying to maybe inspire others. If you just want the quick list see below:

Swaps I use:

  • Compost bin: I purchased mine from my city program that offers them
  • Reusable water bottles + coffee mugs: Swell water bottles
  • Silicone collapsible water bottles + bowls: (great for restaurant leftovers) Stojo
  • Silicone ‘ziplock’ bags: Stasher bags
  • Paper Towels + napkins: cloth versions
  • Washing dishes: wood brushes + castile soap bars
  • Dish scraper for really stuck things: pan scraper
  • Dishwashing detergent + laundry detergent: Dropps
  • Menstrual cup: Lena Cup (alternatively, try period underwear like Thinx)
  • Shampoo, Conditioner, Face Wash, Soap holder: Ethique
  • Conditioner: HiBar (trying this one soon, can find at Whole Foods)
  • Safety Razor: Twig Razor
  • Toothpaste: Hey Humans
  • Toilet Paper: Who Gives A Crap
  • Hand sanitizer: Plaine + Sanikind mini

Swaps I’m considering next:

  • Bidet attachment: Tushy

Kai joined our family in 2020!

This post is mainly a large gallery of photos I love from the first year with our dog Kai. Kai joined us August 8, 2020, at 8 weeks old. She is a blue merle Australian Shepherd.

Similar to many young children I loved animals and dreamed of being a vet when I grew up and while I went down a different path that love of animals never left. I grew up with a dog for much of my life and when he passed I had already met my now-husband who had a dog. We soon moved in together and I have continued to spend my life with dogs. Behr is now 12 years old and during 2020 we took the opportunity that my having 6 months of work from home provided to get a puppy! We welcomed Kai into our home at 8 weeks old getting to know Behr and our cat Simba. Kai is the youngest I have even had a puppy from and it has been a wonderful journey. The photos start from when we got her and grow to her at about 14 months old.

Instagram: @behr_thedog

Haudenosaunee Thanksgiving Address as Inspiration for Giving Thanks Daily for our Planet

As an avid reader with an interest in learning more about our natural world and what can be done to live in a way that supports our planet, I searched for websites, books, and more that could be of value. In my search, I also began looking for knowledge of Native American cultures as they were the first stewards of these lands, lived in harmony with it, and maintained a reciprocal relationship. I hope to honor their knowledge and gain some further understanding as I move forward. In honoring this knowledge I would like to first link to the resources that inspired this post:

As a whole, the human population on earth has failed to maintain our connection to the earth, living in our minds, instead of feeling through our feet and grounding to the earth beneath us. Modern life has disconnected us from the knowledge of where things come from, how things are created, their impacts on our natural world as well as why that should matter to us. In damaging our relationship with our planet we have also failed to protect it. While taking it for granted we miss all the little miracles around us and we have to be reminded of everything we have to thank our world for.

While reading Robin Wall Kimmerer’s book Braiding Sweetgrass I came across the Haudenosaunee (hoe-dee-no-SHOW-nee) Thanksgiving Address in which I found a simple and beautiful way to remind ourselves daily of all that we have in our lives to give thanks for. It was written as a daily reminder to be thankful for all the planet has provided for us.

The Haudenosaunee name refers to the confederation/alliance of six Native American nations which is more commonly called the Iroquois Confederacy in modern US History books. The Iroquois Confederacy was an inspiration for those who wrote the US Constitution. Living on the east coast myself this history is directly related to the land that supports me every day.

I designed the image above of the Thanksgiving Address using the copy included in the PDF I linked at the beginning. I did so as my own way to sit with and reflect on the content, as well as give myself a way to come back to it. The header is purple and includes an illustration of the Hiawatha belt, the color was chosen because the actual belt is made of wampum beads. Wampum (WAHM-pem) is something I have been familiar with since I was a child visiting Martha’s Vineyard and going quahoging (clamming for quahogs) with my family. The purple and white shells of the quahog are turned into beads that are still used in jewelry and other things today. The belt is a symbol instead of an accessory and is not worn as a belt. It represents the alliance of the original five nations in the Confederacy connected by the Great Law of Peace.

‘Thanksgiving Address’ does not refer to the holiday in the US but rather the concept of giving thanks and it is meant for daily use not just one day a year. The Haudonsaunee began and ended all social and ceremonial celebrations with the address and sometimes referred to it as “the worlds that come before all else.” This places a huge amount of importance on giving thanks to all the world provides for us and keeping it foremost in our minds. Traditions like these would be even more important today to remind us in modern times to remain connected to the world around us and grateful each day.

Finding myself inspired by The Thanksgiving Address I decided to expand on words I had already chosen as daily reminders—Gratitude, Happiness & Humility, Wonder—to build it into something longer. Many of the concepts, words, and phrases here also come from other places and people who have inspired me (In case you are interested one of those is the blog

GRATITUDE. Today we express our gratitude. We see the cycle of rebirth continues in the unceasing stream of life. Moments layer upon one another an interplay of all that has passed within the present moment. It is our sacred duty to live in balance and harmony with everyone and everything.

We breathe deeply bringing awareness and mindfulness as we give greetings and thanks to all the interdependent particles of the universe.

HAPPINESS & HUMILITY. Today we are present in this moment. As we meditate the walls between self and other vanish, here there is serenity and bliss, we are not alone. We float freely in the moment recognizing all Mother Earth has provided for us. Time ceases and we know no urgency just being.

Humbled and free we breathe deeply as we give thanks to the invisible force that connects the natural universe from stone to amoeba, mountain to river, songbird to human.

WONDER. Today we look at the natural world in wonder. We turn our minds towards forsaking labels that impoverish experience to wonder at the beauty of all beings. All processes and phenomena but condensed miracles interwoven in the quilt of life. As we are, so we see.

With our sight full of wonder we give thanks to its myriad kaleidoscopic manifestations as we breathe in the element of air and steady the wind of the mind.

End of Winter on Mount Tecumseh

Winter hiking comes with it’s own unique challenges, depending on how popular the trail is and how recently it has snowed you may need different gear. This was my first winter hike and I only own microspikes so I tried to find information online and while there are some good sources you have to make the call yourself. I decided to risk it and drove myself and my dog Behr the 2.5 hrs from Boston to the White Mountains to hike Mount Tecumseh. Mount Tecumseh is so named for the leader of the Shawnee Native American tribe.

The hike begins from the Waterville Valley Ski Resort parking area. It is an out and back trail, in the off season you can hike down the ski trail instead but not in the winter! It is listed as 5.2 mile hike, however, my fitbit said I hiked 4.75 mi with 2,450 ft of elevation gain. Mount Tecumseh is a 4,003 ft mountain. Given the amount of elevation gain in such a short distance despite it being a well made and wide trail for the most part it is very steep and a lot of work on the calves, especially in the snow! My 9 year old dog plowed ahead of me while I trudged along behind him.

We had fun hiking this trail, I’m slowly trying different trails throughout New England and trying to hit all 48 of the 4K mountains in NH. Afterwards I tend to reflect and decide for myself if it’s some place I’d like to revisit. While I had fun hiking this trail and it’s a good trail, it didn’t blow me away of have enough points of interest for me to likely hike it again any time soon.

Mount Tecumseh

4,003 ft mountain
5 mi, out and back
2,500 ft elevation gain
dog friendly

Havasu Falls on the Havasupai Reservation in Arizona

8 Things to Know Before Booking a Trip to Havasu Falls

Considering a trip to Havasu Falls? It can be an amazing trip I think everyone would enjoy visiting at least once. While it is a 10 mile hike in the desert it is worth the effort. Not only are there 5 large waterfalls to visit, but the canyons, Havasu creek, the locals, reservation dogs, and more make it a memorable experience. The waterfalls are a part of the Havasupai reservation and Havasupai actually translates roughly to “The people of the blue-green waters.” The striking color of the water against the red rock of Arizona is part of what the area is so famous for.

Deciding if this is the trip for you

You’ve seen all the lovely waterfall photos and are thinking you’d love to see it in person! These falls are found in the Grand Canyon on the Havasupai Reservation. Visiting requires hiking into the canyon with reservations made in advance. Getting from the parking area to the campground involves backpacking or hiking down while a mule (you reserved ahead of time) carries your things. If you choose to you may be able to book a tour with some companies or get a helicopter ride (with Airwest Helicopters) on some days instead. Whatever your method of transportation for a trip to Havasu Falls there is still a good amount of hiking to be done while visiting.

A trip to Havasu Falls begins with hiking into the village (with or without your gear on your back) for 8 miles from where you park your car on top of the canyon to the Tourism Office. It is then another 2 mile hike from there to Havasu Falls and the campground. If you take the helicopter it lands at the village; if you have mules bring your gear it will be dropped off at the campground entrance.

Havasu creek is the name of the water that creates these 5 major waterfalls and runs into the Colorado River further down. The campground runs along Havasu creek and hanging out at the campsites is just as beautiful as the waterfalls.  Hiking to the each waterfall (which I believe is a must!) can add many miles walked to a day. On our trip to Havasu Falls we easily did 12-18 miles each day. From the campground it is a 1 mile hike to Mooney Falls and a 3 mile hike to Beaver Falls, Fifty Foot Falls and New Navajo Falls are along the hike from Havasu Falls to the Village.

First sight of water on the trail from Havasupai hilltop to Havasu Falls campground
Group photo before back packing from Havasupai Hill Top to the Havasu Falls campground

Booking campsites opens February 1!

So, you’ve decided that a trip to Havasu falls backpacking through the desert to see these waterfalls is worth it, and I believe it is! Then it’s time to look into booking a campsite. The Havasupai Tribe Tourism Office books visitors in lodging or for camping from February 1st through November 30th. A reservation is required to visit, no day hiking is allowed!

Lodging begins booking June 1 the year before your reservation, while the campground begins booking February 1 at 8:00 am the year of and popular dates sell out quickly. In the past you had to call to get reservations and hope to get through (it took us 40-60 hours constantly calling to make reservations!). Today there is a website for booking that you need to have an account on, it receives high volume and can be difficult to get through. They have asked not to receive calls to keep phone lines open for emergencies so I believe you have to use the website and email with questions to book your trip to Havasu Falls.

As of October 2018 a trip to Havasu Falls can only be exactly a 4 days / 3 night reservation, you can extend it only if you make multiple back to back reservations (if the space is available) and it can’t be shortened. Current costs per person are: 1 night = $140.56, 2 nights = $171.12, 3 nights = $201.67. Weekends, Holidays, and Spring Break dates have an additional $18.34 per night charge. These prices have increased since my 2017 visit. The reservation cannot be transferred or refunded once booked so be sure the name listed on the booking will make it on the trip.

Blue water on the trail to Beaver Falls in the Havasupai Reservation

Deciding how long to visit

Depending on what you want to be able to do when you visit will determine how long you might like to staywhile on your trip to Havasu Falls. Our group visited for 4 days and 3 nights and I wish I stayed longer! Here’s an idea of what you can do with 4 days.

  • DAY 1: Hike into Havasupai Village, check in, hike to the campground and set up, visit Havasu Falls
  • DAY 2: Hike to Mooney Falls and Beaver Falls
  • DAY 3: Visit the village, Havasu Falls, Fifty Foot Falls, and New Navajo Falls
  • DAY 4: Hike out of the canyon (or spend some time and hike out late but then you may have a long drive after!)

This is based on the itinerary I had when on a trip to Havasu Falls and wanting to see all the waterfalls. You can have a more relaxing stay near the campground or there are many other opportunities to hike as well, some of the more popular being hiking the Mesa Wall to Beaver Falls and hiking to the Colorado River (16 miles).

Viewing the Canyon around us on the trail from Havasupai Hilltop to Havasu Falls campground

Deciding when to visit

When you can visit on a trip to Havasu Falls will depend on availability and, of course, your schedule. You’ll want to take into consideration the potential weather as well. There are no refunds because of weather and during monsoon season there is intense rain. Flooding during the rain can wash out the campground area and turn the water a muddy color. If conditions are not safe you will not be permitted to camp during your reserved dates.

  • Monsoon (rainy) season in Arizona begin June 15, peak is from mid-July to mid-August, and ends on September 30.
  • Spring temperatures rise from a high of 78–95 nearing summer, lows rise from 54–70
  • Summer temperatures average a high of 100–105, lows from 75–80
  • In the fall temperatures drop from a high of 90–70 nearing winter, lows fall from 70–50

Eating breakfast in our campground at the Havasupai Reservation by Havasu Falls

What you’ll need to pack

There are a number of things that are important to bring on a trip to Havasu Falls and you could easily pack more than you need. At the end of the day the most comforting thing was knowing we were prepared but we paid for it in the weight of our bags. Remember to keep your trail snacks accessible and a map handy for the hike in (although I never actually needed the map). You’ll need less clothing than you think; you can wash clothing with a little bit of soap and water in a dry bag, hanging it to dry on some string. For food you will want to be sure to portion it all out for each meal and snack, you want to have enough but not weigh yourself down. It is nice to treat yourself to a favorite candy or brownie, and the calories will help with all the exercise you’re getting. Carrying heavy weight items like fresh fruit and veggies is not ideal so stick to foods that don’t take up so much space. (There are stores and food available in the village and sometimes at the campground entrance at high prices if you prefer)

For a short trip to Havasu Falls you don’t need much for toiletries and packing smaller sizes is best (there are no showers). Once you reach the campground you may want to tie up your food to keep rodents from getting to it so odor proof bags, a Ursack, or a rat bag can be useful along with some rope. To protect electronics it’s nice to have a dry bag when near the water. A light weight day pack can be useful to carry your things in when you hike from the campground and leave your backpacking bag behind. A note for those who don’t always read directions (like me, woops); microfiber quick dry towels often need to be washed before use or they can bleed ink on your clothing.

As a photographer I had extra weight from my lenses, camera, tripod, and even some fun dresses to take photos with but I suggest packing only what you truly need while on a trip to Havasu Falls for the lightest weight possible.

  • Map, cash, ID
  • Backpacking bag
  • 3L water bladder
  • Light weight backpacking tent (can share 2 person tent)
  • Sleeping bag and pad, pillow or pillow case (can stuff clothing into)
  • Backpacking stove, fuel, lighter, spork, collapsible measuring cup, and pot
  • MRE’s or other instant cook foods, trail mix, beef jerky, crackers & peanut butter, dried fruit, protein bars, light candy treats (that don’t melt)
  • Water filtration like a sawyer mini or tablets
  • Light weight day pack for hiking after you reach camp
  • First aid kit – keep it to the essentials like bandaids, wrap, disinfectant, pain killers, any prescriptions
  • Small dry shampoo, deodorant, comb, soap, sun screen, wet wipes, bug spray if you’d like (environemntally friendly brands and rinse far from the water to not create algae blooms)
  • Quick dry clothing, hiking boots, water shoes, bathing suit and small towel, hat, sunglasses
  • Cell phone, extra battery charges, camera, large memory card
  • Head light, other small lights
  • Dry bag, poncho, puffer jacket
  • Rope, multi-tool, duct tape, compass, whistle (not always used but can be handy)
  • Deck of cards, frisbee (for fun)
  • Optional: odor proof bags, Ursack, or rat bags

No drone use is permitted, no alcohol allowed.

Hanging out at our campsite with the tribe's dogs on the Havasupai Reservation before heading to Mooney Falls

Getting to the trailhead/parking area

Depending on where you are coming from you will most likely fly into Phoenix or Las Vegas for your trip to Havasu Falls. If you’re lucky maybe you can get a flight into the smaller Flagstaff airport. From there you will have to drive. If you put Havasupai Trailhead into your GPS (on google maps) it will get you to the parking area. It is at the end of Indian Road 18 off Route 66. One option during your trip is to also visit the Grand Canyon, it is a bit over a 3.5 hour drive from one to the other (the southern rim, not northern). Don’t forget to fill your gas tanks! There is no gas on Indian Road 18, if you do forget, you may be able to find someone in the parking lot selling it occasionally (we had a friend have to do this).

To get the most of your trip to Havasu Falls it is best to spend the night before your reservation begins sleeping in your car in the parking area. It can be cold at night, so bundle up. Getting up early the next morning to hike in first thing will give you the most time for your visit and avoid some of the hottest sun. Once you get to the village you need to check in at the tourism office it’s hours are not listed online, however, they are not open at all times and do take breaks so you’ll have to be sure to catch them.

Planning hike in and out

Wake up in the parking area to begin your trip to Havasu Falls from your car early in the morning, 5:00–6:00 am I’d suggest, or earlier if its summer, and get ready to begin your hike. It is cooler in the morning which is why it’s best to start dressed in layers. Take your last chance to use a bathroom by the trailhead. Then the hike begins with about 1 mile of switchbacks heading into the canyon floor where it seems to level out for most of the next 7 miles. Following this trail back out when you leave you realize it’s really all slightly uphill on the way back, even the areas you may have thought were flat. It’s a long hike and everyone should take care to take the breaks they need and drink plenty of water. You’ll pass other hikers and mule trains with luggage going in and out along the way.

When you first see Havasu creek and the famous blue-green water you’ll know you’re getting close to the village. In the village there are several places to stop and rest that sell frozen Gatorades, food, and other supplies. Be sure to pick up anything you’re missing while you are here. There are small signs to guide you to the tourism office where you need to check in. Afterwards you can continue on your trip to Havasu Falls by following the trail down past the first two waterfalls New Navajo Falls and Fifty Foot Falls. You can decide to stop now and visit or continue on past Havasu Falls to the campground entrance and find your spot. I would recommend not taking the first campsite you see but wandering around (maybe without your bag ;)) to find one you love.

While you are there

You made it! Now you have a limited amount of time and so much to see. Decide what kind of experience you want and have fun. For my friends and I we wanted to explore and see all 5 major waterfalls, we saw other families hang out at the two major waterfalls closest to the camp all day, and some other groups pick the less popular waterfalls, New Navajo Falls and Fifty Foot Falls, to spend an entire day at. Whatever your preference it will be an amazing trip to Havasu Falls.

If you plan on swimming, I have to say the water was colder than I expected, although we did visit in mid-May. If you get sick of the food you brought the locals sell some freshly made food at the campground entrance until theres none left or you can find more food for purchase in the village 2 miles from the campground. The camp dogs are most often in the village, at Havasu falls, and in the campground, with a little encouragement the dogs adopt campers to stay and visit with during their trip to Havasu Falls.

The campgrounds is 1 mile long with Havasu Falls at one end and Mooney Falls at the other down a bunch of sketchy stairs, metal chains, and ladders. The trails for Beaver Falls begin from Mooney and the hike is 3 miles one way. Rangers will turn you back after a certain time to make sure everyone is back to the campground before dark. New Navajo Falls and Fifty Foot Falls are along the trail between Havasu Falls and the village.

The hike from Mooney to Beaver was especially unique. Although the waterfalls are the big draw for a trip to Havasu Falls the hikes themselves are otherworldly. You cross the creek 3 times on the way to Beaver Falls, you end up above it at times, cross through a sudden field of green in the red rock canyon, and climb short ladders. There are tons of places to grab a picnic table and just relax. I wish I had more time to spend on this trail and at Beaver Falls. At the falls you could walk around and swim in all the tiers of the falls.

These are the main trails and most popular on a trip to Havasu Falls, there are several others including hiking on the Mesa Wall to Beaver Falls where you’ll have to be careful getting off the trail as it requires you climb down a rope. You can’t jump into the water from the rope, it isn’t deep enough! (A ranger shared a story about someone who did this before and had to wait overnight in a storm before it was safe for a helicopter to fly into the canyon to get them to a hospital.) The Arizona river is also a 16 mile hike if you’re into some serious hiking.

Havasu offers so much and is such a unique place, please carry in carry out <3 and keep it beautiful.

Hiking Humpback Rocks Blue Ridge parkway trail in summer with friends and making fallen trees our playground

Hiking Humpback Rocks and Driving Blue Ridge Parkway

To leave Shenandoah we drove the last part of Skyline drive stopping at any overlooks that interested us and continued straight on to Blue Ridge parkway, another scenic drive across the mountain tops. We had planned to stop early in the drive and hike to Humpback Rocks.

We stopped by the visitor center poked around and also changed as it was turning out to be a beautiful morning. We then drove over the the trail head and parked. This hike is short but with a decent amount of elevation gain. Alexis and I soon found ourselves ahead of our friends so we stopped at a bent over tree to use it as our personal playground while we waited for them to catch up.

Once at Humpback rocks we lingered at the view, took a lot of photos, and had a snack. Then we headed back down to continue our long drive. We made several other stops along Blue Ridge Parkway and it quickly became later in the day, the weather also grew wetter and foggy so we were driving carefully. There are a limited number of places to get off the parkway so we found ourselves leaving the area late and in the rain. Since we didn’t have a campsite booked for the night we decided to stay in a hotel instead of setting up in the rain.

Humpback Rocks

Milepost 5.8 on Blue Ridge Parkway
2 miles out and back hike
700 ft elevation gain

Shenandoah National Park Skyline Drive Overlook

Old Rag Mountain and Luray Caverns

After some obsessive planning May saw myself and a few friends heading on a road trip through Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee and back through Virginia along the Appalachian Trail.

We planned things down to the minute using Excel / Google sheets. We estimate distance and time for travel, time spent at each location and costs of each little piece. Of course life doesn’t quite work that way but it was nice to have a plan! I also created information sheets on each location we were going too which for some places was key.

As we began our road trip with a first 8–10 hour drive we were all in good spirits despite a forecast of rain for our entire trip!

Shenandoah National Park is basically along one mountain top winding road, Skyline drive, with overlooks and trails along the way. You can enter at the top, middle, or bottom; those are the only entrances / exits. We started at the top and did all the overlooks before getting to our campground. We stayed at Matthew Arm Campground, a more primitive site in the park because we arrived on a weekend and the sites were busy.

This was not my first visit to Shenandoah and I will say the drive gets to me, I don’t love driving on winding roads with lots of cliffs so I hadn’t thought I’d be back. In all reality, since it isn’t too far from where I live, I will probably be back again one day. However, I will enter the park in the middle (Thornton Gap) next time. The only thing I will miss is the overlook Range View which has beautiful rolling hills.

Shenandoah National Park

Old Rag Mountain is NOT off Skyline drive, you have to approach from outside the central park area or exit. A pass is still required for parking.
9 mile loop hike
2,355 ft of elevation gain

Shenandoah National Park Skyline Drive Overlook
Shenandoah National Park Skyline Drive Overlook

We ended the first day a bit early after the long drive. We had a busy schedule for our days in Shenandoah and ended up missing quite a few hikes we planned because there was so much. We did not end up making it to any of the sunset hikes, often due to rain and total exhaustion / laziness.

We started early the next day and almost made sunrise…

Shenandoah National Park Skyline Drive Overlook just after Sunrise

Our next hike is part of Shenandoah National Park but you have to exit the park at Thornton Gap to get to the parking area. We drove to Old Rag Mountain parking. Old Rag Mountain from what we had read is a 9 mile hike with 2355 feet elevation gain and we had set aside 8 hours to hike it (we were running a little late). It was unclear if this mile total included the walk from the parking lot to the trail head. In the end my Fitbit (using my phones GPS) said we hiked 9.4 miles. At the end of the trip this was still a favorite hike in our group and our longest (in miles walked) day!

The greenery was both very similar to home and not. There are a great variety of ferns, a large amount of wild rhododendrons, and other differences.

We started the hike with the knowledge that thunderstorms were expected around noon so we wouldn’t want to be on the top of the mountain then. We all prepared with rain gear and set off.

We had hoped during our visit for some May flowers but found only a few type in bloom while we visited.

As we got closer to the rock scrambles this hike is famous for we started to believe we were near the top. While out of the tree line at this point we were not actually that close to the summit yet. At first the view was a bit cloudy. Given the weather the fog that gives the Smoky Mountain range it’s name often rolls through in different patterns creating different levels of visibility. While hiking along the mountain ridge there were making views of the surrounding country side. To one side we often found trees and fields with peoples homes, and the other mountain ranges.

I don’t have a great photo of it, but one of the scrambles often seen when researching this hike is this, it’s a narrow space you have to climb down into. From above it looks much deeper than in this photo. There is an arrow pointing down on the rock that is very literally telling you where to get down, there are almost stairs in the rocks to help you so it isn’t very difficult.

With frequent rock scrambles, stairs, and other formations we continued to wonder were the actual summit was. We finally made it to the summit with some rushing as we got nervous the closer to noon it got but luckily the rain held out.

Afterwards we took a short rest, hopped in the car, and drove back through Thorton Gap to the exit on the other side of the mountain range and visit Luray Caverns. Luray Caverns is the largest cavern in the eastern US and a popular site to visit. It cost $28 and you join a tour which leave above every 30 minutes.

The caverns are full of these beautiful formations throughout. The tour guide gives information about these particular caverns, general information on how they are formed, and little spots to stop along the way with stories. They ask you not touch the formations to help preserve them for future generations.  Sadly our group was not as respectful as we might have hoped and we often found ourselves telling both adults and their children not to touch. The images of the caverns with reflections in a popular stop and photo of Luray. The small pools of water create these very realistic looking reflections.

Afterwards we headed back into Shenandoah. We found the road getting foggier and foggier and we got back into the mountains. This turned out to be the scariest part of the trip, we were in white out conditions and barely able to see in front of the car. We drove in the middle of the road to avoid the cliffs and barely 5 mph. I would highly recommend getting back early to avoid this!

Luray Caverns

101 Cave Hill Road,
Luray, VA
Open 9:00 – 6:00
A tour is about 1 mi and 1 hr, $28.00 / adult

View at the Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve in San Diego California

What do you know about water?

How often have you asked yourself about water? You are generally aware of it’s necessity in your life and you’ve probably been told you can only live 3–4 days without water; but how much do you consider water?

If you’ve ever driven by a reservoir regularly and noticed the changing water level, did you think it was due to drought conditions or human consumption? Did you consider how many people the water supply of the world can support?

It’s altogether too easy to take for granted a simple thing like water. How many times have you let the sink run over a dish while doing something else, taken a long shower, done a small load of laundry or dishes, dumped a water bottle down the drain because it wasn’t cold?

We probably learned in elementary school and are often reminded when looking at a world map that 71% of the earth’s surface is covered in water. What we might forget is that only 3% of the earth’s water is freshwater. With less than 1% of the earth’s freshwater being accessible to us. This means 99% of earth’s freshwater is inaccessible. Source

  • 0.3% of freshwater is found in lakes, ponds, rivers, and wetlands
  • 30% of freshwater is found in groundwater
  • 68% of freshwater is inaccessible in icecaps and glaciers

With so little water accessible to us conservation is key. 1,320 gallons of water the equivalent of 32,911 glasses of water or 5 showers an hour are needed a day to support the diet of the average American. 2/3rds of this water is used to produce the food we eat.

70% of all the freshwater used by humans is for agricultural purposes. Producing the food we eat, the clothing we wear, electronics, and more all contribute to our freshwater use. Producing 1 pound of beef requires more than 1,750 gallons of water. Producing 1 pound of rice requires between 400–650 gallons of water. Rice, Cotton, and Sugar are thirsty plants requiring heavy water use. Check out this water footprint calculator.

With construction on once protected and public lands we eliminate streams, vernal pools, and wetlands. With the dumping of sewage and storm water we taint freshwater sources. With our use of pesticides, herbicides, insecticides, and other chemicals we taint groundwater, ponds, and streams. With our mining for fossil fuels and minerals we taint groundwater which eventually joins larger freshwater sources. While it is inaccessible to us, global warming is melting the icecaps and glaciers — raising sea levels, yes, but that’s another topic — our largest potential freshwater source.

While we continue to affect our freshwater sources with our activities we place greater demand on them as well. Today 780 million people lack access to freshwater and about 1.5 million people die each year from diarrhea. With projected population growth by 2025 (just 7 years from now) 35% (or 2/3rds) of the earth’s population (48 countries) will be affected by water stress and scarcity.

Take a step back each day with wonder, humility, and gratitude for the natural world. As small as it may seem, do your part, and use the bare minimum you need. Together we can make a difference.

A few ideas for water conservation:

  • Buy only as much food as you eat
  • Buy less “thirsty” plants and meats (Beef, pork, rice, etc)
  • Take quick showers and shower less
  • Flush less
  • Run only full loads of laundry and dishes
  • Don’t leave the sink running
  • Wash your car less and with only a bucket of water
  • Water the lawn less
  • Avoid filling that hot tub or pool

Autumn on Mount Major

Mount Major in New Hampshire on Lake Winnipesaukee is known for the view at the top and it does not disappoint. This easy 3.8 mi hike to the top of a 1,785 ft mountain is worth the trip no matter your skill level. The hike itself has as easy gradual incline at the beginning and picks up a little more toward the top but I would never consider it steep.

A few friends and I decided to check it out during the fall 2017 to see some foliage. While there was not a large variety of foliage along the hike when closer to the tree line there was more color. At this point some of my friends decided to play in the trees.

Once you reach the summit the view in one direction is mountains with beautiful fall foliage and the other direction is the lake. When continuing on the looped trail it can be a little confusing to find where it continues, you do have to go past the old lookout spot and find the trail on the other side.

Mount Major

1,785 ft mountain
3.8 mi loop hike
1,148 ft elevation gain
dog friendly

Couple at the Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve in San Diego California

Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve

While in San Diego in May 2017 Alexis and I decided to visit Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve for some beautiful coastal scenery and to take a few photos of ourselves as well. It took us a while to find our way there, one of the roads had been closed and we had to drive in a large circle to get to the park but it was worth it! Upon first arriving it was a very cloudy day but the sky cleared up and made for some beautiful photos.

Torrey Pines for me was just one of those places; where it’s hard to stop taking photos because everything is breathtakingly beautiful and creates a space for this feeling of calm, peace, and contentment. I wish we had spent more time here but we had to get to Balboa Park and see the dinosaurs before the Museum of Natural History closed so we did about 1.5 miles in 1-1.5 hours.

Torrey Pines is named so for the endangered Torrey Pines that are common throughout this protected landscape. We found an endless amount of lizards running around in the area during our visit.

I used a trigger release and my trip to take photos of Alexis and I anticipating a beautiful location (you can kind of see me clicking the release in some photos).

Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve

12600 N Torrey Pines Rd,
La Jolla, CA (near San Diego)

Trail Map
2,000 acres
No dogs, smoking, food, or drones allowed