Stunning Yosemite. (On a Budget)

A few years back Budgie Al and I (Matt) managed to get a few weeks holiday in America. Whilst based in the Bay Area of San Francisco we wanted to make the most of the trip and travel around and one place we were desperate to visit was Yosemite. For those that don’t know, the National Park is in Northern California covering a huge area of 746, 956 acres across the beautiful Sierra Nevada mountain range and the surrounding area. It’s a huge tourist attraction with well over 5 million visitors last year. And, as you may then expect, it can be an extortionately expensive holiday destination! So how did we manage it the Budget Budgie way?

First up – Transportation: 

Whilst the train system in the states isn’t ideal, it was our friend on this occasion. I’m writing this on a Sunday, and to book this route for tomorrow would cost me $32. Not bad at all. So of course with advanced planning and booking you can nab this for a bargain. The journey isn’t the simplest it’s true, with a couple of changes, however it was perfectly pleasant. Having said that, I don’t remember it being quite as nice a journey as the Amtrak site suggests…

“You’ll see the state’s premier agricultural region from the comfort of your seat and roomy train interior. Grab a snack and sit back as you watch the coastal mountain ranges pass by on your way to Yosemite National Park . After a quick stop in Merced, CA and a scenic Thruway bus ride in through Mariposa and El Portal, Yosemite National Park greets you with a spectacular sight. Waterfalls, giant sequoias, scenic overlooks and winding trails throughout 1,169 square miles of parkland are just a few of the things that await.”

As it says, you have to change and get a bus once you’re at Merced. However they ran regularly and we didn’t have to wait too long at all – which was a good job as shade was lacking and refreshments were limited to a machine which spewed boiling black water it called coffee. The shuttle busses were also incredibly convenient as they took you around the larger and most popular hotels, hostels and camp sites. Which leads us to…

Accommodation: Yosemite Bug. Rustic Mountain Resort. 

Without camping gear Al and I needed a bed, or two, and as such we unfortunately had to pay a premium. There are no ‘cheap’ places in this area. Having said that, the Bug offered very good value for the area. I can’t remember the exact prices we paid back then, but it is now $28 a night for what we had – a male shared dormitory. This was basic. Bunk beds, snoring hikers and an open bathroom with shower curtains which stick to your whatnots. However it’s located great for the bus from the station and the bus into the visitor centre area of the park with them running regularly in both directions. And, after you’ve spent a day in the park doing hikes in the sun all you want is a functional shower and a bed to collapse onto.

IMG_0668Also it’s in a pretty setting with walks in that area too and hammocks and table tennis etc spread around. There’s a very decent food hall too with unlimited coffee by the pint glass and burrito breakfasts. So yeh, certainly can recommend to anyone and would use again. And by would I mean I hope to.

 

Yosemite Valley itself. 

The shuttle bus is free!!! I can’t stress enough how great this is. This is after all Budget Budgie and therefore the word free should always be accompanied by fireworks. The shuttles are supplied to reduce car traffic and are excellent. The drivers were all incredibly knowledgeable and they give fantastic views of the stunning scenery and take you to the start of the different hikes and sections. Bliss.

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Some of the trail routes are for the hardcore hiker only so make sure you read up before you pick your pathway. For instance, the Half Dome Day Hike is a 16 mile round trip with elevations of almost 5000 feet and involves cables you have to climb up a near straight rock face. Budgie Al and I dressed in shorts and Sports Direct trainers did not do this or other similar trails. Instead we chose those listed ‘easy’ on the useful map from the information centre. These are up to around 3 miles and are perfect for those with just trainers, a bottle of water and a camera. They also mean you can do a few different ones leisurely during the day and thus see many different areas of the park with the aid of the shuttle bus. Did I mention that’s free?

So what sort of things can be seen? Well, quite simply, breathtaking things. One trail we did took us to Vernal Fall:

“Climb along nature’s “giant staircase,” where you are rewarded with close-up views of two waterfalls and numerous geologic features (depending on how far you choose to hike). Powerful and turbulent, these two waterfalls will soak you in spring and entice you year-round”

 

Yes, we truly did get soaked – The power of Vernon’s spray was quite phenomenal! This trail was tough on the knees with the ‘giant staircase’ taking you up high with stunning views over the terrain. However, who cares if you’re out of breath if this view is the reward! Woodland. Waterfalls. Mountain Ranges. Sun. Clouds. Birds. Animals. Everything. Nature can be truly breathtaking.

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Other trails though are more relaxed and give you more of a ground level experience of Yosemite with rivers and meadows. If you’re not much of a walker and just want to do one, then the ‘Cook’s Meadow Loop’ is often recommended:

“Walk through the heart of it all! Enjoy views of Yosemite Falls, Half Dome, Sentinel Rock, and Royal Arches from the center of Yosemite Valley as you saunter through this large open meadow.”

For Al and I it offered stunning views, great photo opportunities and spots for food breaks. And I can’t stress this enough, Al requires many many many food breaks. If he doesn’t get them then he becomes a more fearsome animal than you’ll find anywhere else in the national park.

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Whilst there are many, many other activities that can be done in the park ranging from biking and ice skating through to kayaking and horse riding, Al and I chose the walking because it’s free, can be done at your own pace with a million breaks and, with the free shuttles, gives you the chance to see an incredible amount of beauty in just a short time. And, sadly, we didn’t have too much time. Just a day and a morning. Having said this, it was fully worth the travel and expense. Which leads to…

Summary: 

Do it! Go there! 6/5.

Thanks for reading,

Matt.

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Traveling with a Camera.

A large part of traveling for me is about seeing new things and capturing it on my camera. Yet, as I sit down now and think about it, carrying around a large expensive DSLR seems an unnecessary and silly thing to do. So, rather than write a blog piece for you with tips on travel photography like intended, I’m going to write a stream of consciousness style discussion with myself trying to justify my decision to always have my camera as the first thing in the bag.

For anyone interested, this is the camera in question.

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For anyone that’s backpacked or hiked etc, you’ll know that you become a snail with your bag the all-important, all antagonising, centre of focus be it when you’re trying to cram everything in initially, to worrying about its security when on a train or in your bed at night or when you’re despising every thread of its being as you lug it around upon your sweaty, cramping, crippled-over-never-to-feel-the-same-again back. And therefore, having all these extra things to fit in there is a nightmare.

And, there’s the accompanying stress from the risk of theft or simply losing it. Without naming a price, it’s fair to say that the collective cost of this stuff is more than I’d care to lose and if you are traveling around a lot there’s an increased risk of theft. Take this terrifying opening para from Kathryn Walsh’s article in USATODAY for example:

“One second of inattention is all it takes to lose your camera to an opportunistic thief. Camera theft can happen anywhere, but it’s particularly common in many European cities. The European travel expert Rick Steves recalls the summer when four of his travel companions had their cameras stolen and warns that some Spanish thieves will even smash the windows of your car — while you’re in it — to grab a camera. Protecting your camera isn’t merely about holding onto the device itself, but keeping the photos of your European adventure safe.”

Walsh goes on to give a number of sensible suggestions on preventing such, so check it out if you’re intrigued. Looking back on my InterRailing ventures in my teens, I can safely say that I did none of these things. I didn’t have a protective sleeve for the camera, let alone a nondescript one, nor an anti-theft strap, it was simply in my side shoulder bag alongside half eaten bags of sweets, my wallet and leaking sun cream. No doubt a lot of luck came into me never having any issues with theft on any of my many travels and looking back now this is concerning. Especially when I think of all the times when I’ve had ‘even one second of inattention’. For example, recently over Christmas when I went to California I left my camera on a rock just off the path whilst I set it on a timer for a series of egotistical vanity shots of me sat in a tree. (The photos were rather striking though it must be said)

Then there’s the actual photos themselves. We probably all have a very decent quality camera on our phones and you can pick up a compact one for a decent price which is strong, good quality and slips into your pocket. Take our Instagram page for example (SHAMELESS PLUG: @budgetbudgie). Whilst many of the photos are taken by me with the Pentax, and I personally feel them to be far superior incredible images worthy of likes in the thousands, they rarely receive any more acclaim than those taken on phones or with a compact. So what’s the point of bothering lugging it around if the end result for me gets the same acclaim and same reward as ones taken on another device? Thinking about that now it is rather frustrating. Infuriating even.

So where’s that bring us so far? 1) Extra heavy things to lug around in the limited retail space available when traveling. 2) High risk of theft and/or simply losing it or it getting damaged. 3) The photos don’t get any more favorable attention on Instagram than those taken on phones or compacts. Negative. All negative. But, no doubt you see where this is going? After all, I said at the start that I always take the camera with me and I have no intention of stopping. So, now there must indeed be positives to justify why I do.

Well, the first of these exposes a vulnerability to you here dear readers, so please don’t use it as my undoing. My memory is god awful. Like, truly, truly bad. For example, I was a part of the InterRail travels J brilliantly wrote about in his two blog posts – check them out if you haven’t done so already – and more than that, I was more than a third (more than two thirds) responsible for the planning and organising of the trip, and yet I remembered nearly nothing of what he outlined to happen. The photos are therefore essential for me so that I know in the years that follow that I did actually go to these places and that I had a good time.

Next up, traveling is expensive and buying souvenirs is too. And, most of the time, they’re not actually that good – though can be fun to browse the shops for. Photos meanwhile make fantastic souvenirs and you can do whatever you want with them once home. For example, brag to others you’ve been by posting them on social media, get them printed in a nice photo book or print the odd one and blutack them around your room. Here are a few pics of my travels which hopefully shows their worth as souvenirs:

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(SF Port from a ferry. Swiss mountains with Al and J. Monarch Butterfly cluster in California. Yosemite National Park)

Finally, I just enjoy taking the damn photos! And having fun on your travels is the main goal and main point. So, in a lovely hippy conclusion:

Do what makes you happy my friends. Do what makes you happy x