Why You Should Walk Everywhere While Traveling

While traveling, we HIGHLY encourage you to walk everywhere. 

Stumble upon local spots

By walking, you will see many more local spots and have so many more unique experiences than if you take an Uber, bus, car, train, etc.  We have stumbled upon some of the coolest local spots by walking most places while traveling.  

Different Cobblestone Sidewalks throughout Lisbon
Different Cobblestone Sidewalks throughout Lisbon

For example, when we were in Portugal, we stumbled upon a restaurant right on the coast with some of the most delicious and fresh seafood we have ever had.  We would have never come across this restaurant had we taken a tram to Belmont from the main city center in Lisbon (the main mode of transport recommended by most travel books and blogs).  We also got to see tons of different very pretty cobblestone sidewalks while walking through Lisbon. See, coming soon, Lisbon, Portugal Quick Guide for more information. 

Likewise, while we were in NYC, we stumbled upon a pop-up of Black Tap Shakes (a popular shake spot known for their massive and extravagant milkshakes) while walking from Ellis Island to the Brooklyn Bridge and we did not have to wait in line for hours at the main restaurant location like we were anticipating.  See New York City Quick Guide ***

Our favorite hole in the wall restaurant in Essaouria, Morocco
Our favorite hole in the wall restaurant in Essaouria, Morocco

Similarly, in Essaouira, Morocco, while walking around the city, we stumbled upon a hole-in-the-wall restaurant with some of the best, least expensive food we have ever tasted.  See Morocco Trip Reflection.  

You get the idea, the more you walk, the more local spots you’ll stumble upon.  

Unique experiences with locals and other travelers

Morning walk in Chongqing, China
Morning walk in Chongqing, China

Of similar accord, in Chongqing, China, we walked around the city and had numerous kids roll down the windows of the their cars to enthusiastically tell us “HELLO!” with an accompanying very energetic wave and smile.  The excitement these kids exuded using their English while saying “HELLO” still makes us smile immediately four years later.  

Toledo, Spain
Toledo, Spain

By similar accord, while walking into the city of Toledo, Spain from the train station, we met a man from California, who spoke fluent Spanish. We hit it off talking with him and enjoyed spending most of the day with him in Toledo. Since this friend spoke fluent Spanish, he was able to speak with locals and really made our experience of the city more quaint.   Had we taken a Taxi into the city, our experience in Toledo would have been completely different. (See post Why You Should Talk to Strangers While Traveling *** and, coming soon, Madrid, Spain Quick Guide).

If you want to have unique, local experience while traveling, the simplest and least expensive thing you can do is to walk and to be friendly. It’s as simple as that!

We hope this post encourages you to walk more while traveling.   We’d love to hear your feedback!  Please leave us a comment.  

And remember, Always Have A Trip Planned!

Why You Should Talk to Strangers While Traveling

While traveling, we firmly believe you should take the time to talk to the people you meet along the way. We always say the best part of traveling is not the places we have been but the people we have met.

You never know what you may gain from talking to a stranger

From co-passengers on a flight to husband and wife

Honestly, you never know what you will gain from talking to a stranger, you may even marry them. We met on a puddle jumper plane in 2013 in Belize, now are married, just had our first child and have never stopped traveling since then.  Life can really surprise you, especially while traveling, if you step out of your comfort zone and talk to strangers around you.  

Meet new friends

Hiking in Kenai Fjords National Park with new friends
Hiking in Kenai Fjords National Park with new friends

For example, after we got charged by a bear in Alaska (see What you can Learn from Being Charged by a Bear), we turned around on the trail and met a couple, Matt and Megan, from Texas who we ended up hiking with the rest of the day.  We had some great conversations and got to share the beauty of one of the best, most challenging, hikes in Alaska with another couple.  

Toledo, Spain
Toledo, Spain “meet cute” that introduced us to our new friend Ricardo

Similarly, when we were in Toledo, Spain, we asked a stranger to take a picture for us. After that, we started talking to him and before we knew it, we had explored all of Toledo with our new friend Ricardo. Besides great conversation, Ricardo spoke fluent Spanish and really helped us explore Toledo more like a local. (See, coming soon, Madrid/Toledo Spain Quick Guide).

Have more memorable experiences

Venice, Spain
Venice, Italy

By talking to strangers while traveling, you will have more memorable experiences and conversations.  On our train ride from Cinque Terre to Venice, we sat across from a couple from Australia who we spent the whole afternoon discussing cultural differences/similarities, politics and travel stories. That train ride was the fastest train ride we have ever taken despite it actually being the longest train ride we have ever taken. 

Killarney, Ireland
Killarney, Ireland

On another train ride from Dublin to Killarney, we spent the whole ride talking to two friendly local men, mainly comparing Ireland and the USA . These men gave us some really good tips on how to experience Killarney less like a tourist. One of the men actually ended up driving us to our hotel because it was raining. We would not suggest getting rides from strangers (in retrospect, this could have ended very differently) but he was truly a very kind man. 

Learn from locals

Spices in Marrakech, Morocco
Spices in Marrakech, Morocco

By talking to strangers, you will most certainly learn a thing or two.  In Marrakech, Morocco, we were taken to the local market area instead of the touristy medina by a local we started talking to, with the very little Arabic we knew. Here, we were shown local aliment remedies that we had seen everyday at the medinas but had no idea what the uses of each of these were. We would have been completely naïve to this information had we not talked to this man. 

You get the point, the more friendly you are and the more people you talk to, the more memorable your experience will be.  You never know what you might learn from talking to a stranger or what part they may play in your life! 

We hope this post encourages you to talk to more people while traveling.  What are your favorite stories from talking to strangers while traveling? We’d love to hear your feedback and questions. Please leave us a comment.

And remember, Always Have A Trip Planned!

What you can Learn from our First Backpacking Trip

Backpacking in the Porcupine Mountains
Lake of the Clouds, Porcupine Mountains State Park, Michigan

In the summer of 2019, we went on our first backpacking trip (with another couple) in the Porcupine Mountains (State Park in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan).  Experiencing nature in this serene setting was great for the soul and very rewarding. We gained a sense of accomplishment by overcoming different challenges we encountered while backpacking, as well as the meditative benefits from continuously hiking in nature.  We had an awesome first backpacking adventure and made memories that will last a lifetime, but we definitely made some rookie mistakes.  Here are some things you can learn from our first backpacking trip. 

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links. That means that, at no cost to you, we may get a small commission if you purchase through these links. This helps us keep providing travel resources for you! 

1. Do NOT Underestimate Mileage

On our 48 hour trip, we ended up hiking 11-12 miles more than we had planned.  THAT IS A LOT–especially when you are carrying a 30 lb+ backpack.  We had planned to hike about 2-4 miles less each day.  We did not take into account the mileage of the connecting trails and at one point, we accidentally took a wrong turn and hiked 1.5 miles in the wrong direction (3 miles extra total).  This brings me to our next two points…

2. Independent Verification with turns on the trail and planning

Everytime you take a turn on the trail, have each person in your group independently verify that you are turning in the right direction.  When we took our wrong turn on the trail, everyone in the group trusted that the one person looking at the map was directing us correctly.  Rookie mistake.  

After that incident, everyone looked at the map EVERY time we came to a fork in the trail so that each of us was independently verifying that we were going in the right direction.  Also, only one person in the group planned our trip route and without independent verification, it was not caught that we had not taken into account the connecting trails in our mileage plans until we were already hiking. 

3. Do NOT try to hike as many miles as possible each day.  Plan some flex-time.   

We hiked 11-12 miles the first day, 13 miles the next day and 7 miles the last day.  We’d recommend planning to hike about 6 miles per day, especially if this is your first trip.  This will allow you time to relax at the campsite and provides extra time in case you do take a wrong turn.  The first day, when we took a wrong turn, we were hiking right until the sun was setting.  We were literally racing against sunset to make it to our campsite and thankfully, we made it.  Setting up camp/cooking in the dark is not the easiest activity and we wouldn’t recommend it (but it does make for a better story and a very memorable experience). 

4. Bring extra food 

Since we hiked about 12 miles more than expected, we needed more food than we had anticipated. Each mile you hike while backpacking, you burn somewhere between about 100-300 calories.  That means, at minimum, we needed 4800 more calories worth of food for the group than what we had anticipated.  By the end of the trip, we were running out of food.  We’d recommend bringing extra food, something dense in calories (such as extra trail mix or nuts) just in case you do end up needing more fuel.  

5. Bring a reliable and fast water filter. Test it out before you go. Bring iodine purifying tablets or a LifeStraw in case your filter stops working.

Our water filter, the Sawyer Squeeze, was terrible–and that is putting it generously.  This filter was so slow and difficult to use.  Basically, to use this filter, you filled the bag of the filter up with water and then attached it to the filter cap. You then squeeze the water through the filter cap but for minutes of squeezing, you might only get a drop or two of water.  Very frustrating and unsatisfying.  

Theoretically, this filter should have worked better than this but we would recommend using a pump filter instead.   There are many options on the market and outdoor stores have a great selection. We recommend using the MiniWorks EX Water Filter. Pump filters like this one are more expensive than the squeeze filters but they are also much more reliable and user friendly.  Think about it though, WATER IS LIFE and without water, you die, so it’s definitely worth the extra money.  Also, bring iodine purifying tablets or a LifeStraw just in case something happens to your filter.  Thankfully, we had iodine tablets and were able to use these to treat our water bottles and have ample water to drink. 

Porcupine Mountains State Park

6. Map out where you will have access to water on your route  

On our route, we thought we were going to have access to clean water at Lake of the Clouds (a tourist spot that you can drive up to) but to our surprise, we did not.  Because we thought we were going to have access to clean water here, we did not completely fill up on unfiltered water at our campsite the night prior (especially with how difficult our filter was to use).  The next time we encountered unfiltered water next was about 5 miles later and at this point, we had nearly run out of water.  Again, WATER IS LIFE.  Fill up on water when you can and research your route beforehand to find out when you will have access to water (both clean and unfiltered). 

7. Don’t bring things you really don’t need  

Everything extra you bring is extra weight you have to carry on your back.  We paired down what we were bringing by laying out all of our gear prior to the trip and packing our bags together.  This helped ensure we were not bringing excess since we could work together as a team to bring different items.  

For example, only one of us needed to bring a cookstove and we could split up our food between the four of our packs. The only extra items we brought that were not needed were books.  We thought we were going to have time to relax at the campsites and read, but in reality, we spent most of the day hiking.  We find it very comical in retrospect that we thought we were going to have time or energy to read. 

8. Bring a compact sleeping bag and other compact gear

Our friends, Kellie and Nick, thankfully, let us borrow a lot of their compact items and these items really helped conserve space as well as weight in our bags. We’d highly recommend investing in these compact items.  Had we brought our normal sleeping bags, almost all of our backpacks would have been full of just those. 

9. Bring quality, sweat wicking clothes

Hiking 30 + miles in 48 hours will definitely give you blisters if your socks don’t fit and you learn very quickly if your gear is subpar.  Make sure you have quality socks and clothes.  Natalie wore a cotton shirt the first day and after it rained, she started to get an abrasion of her neck/shoulder from her backpack and shirt rubbing against it.  When she changed into a moisture wicking shirt, the problem was solved but this abrasion was uncomfortable the whole trip.  Also, the moment you start to feel any rubbing on your toes, change your socks.  Blisters do not bode well for a trip where hiking is your mode of transportation.  

Looking for great hiking boots?  Here are links to the ones we’ve used for 6+ years and highly recommend: Men’s Keen Waterproof Hiking Boots & Women’s Keen Waterproof Hiking Boots

10. Have an exit plan (just in case something goes awry)

We had numerous exit plans that thankfully we did not have to use.  If someone rolls an ankle and can’t walk or someone gets seriously injured or ill, you want to be able to get help and know where to get it.  Map out alternate exit routes to shorten your trip and where you can exit to main roads if necessary.  Better to be prepared.  

11. Stay at a remote campsite that can only be accessed by hiking

These remote campsites we stayed at were SO cool. Especially our campsite right along the Lake Superior shoreline. This is something we definitely did right.  It was very serene to be out on the shoreline by ourselves. 

Lake Superior Campsite in Porcupine Mountains State Park

12. Have cold beer (or beverage of choice) and snacks waiting in the car for when you are done

Just trust us–you’ll have earned these and will be SO happy to have them.  Our friend Kellie had planned for snacks to be waiting for us in the car and we have never been more excited to see snacks.  Our friend Nick nearly proposed to Kellie (again) because of these snacks.  Backpacking in general makes you more grateful for the little things and these simple snacks are a great example of that.  


Experiencing nature that has limited human interaction is quite serene. The methodical nature of hiking allows for a natural meditation in a calming environment. “Roughing it” also gives you a greater appreciation for the little comforts in life, such clean water.

We hope this helps you plan your first backpacking trip.  Learn from our rookie mistakes and from the things we did right.  Backpacking is a great way to escape the hustle and bustle of the day to day grind and gain gratitude for the conveniences we are afforded in modern day life.  

Do you have any other backpacking tips?  We’d love to hear your feedback.  Please leave us a comment. 

And remember, Always Have A Trip Planned!

How to Save on a Rental Car

Use Autoslash! Autoslash is our go-to website we use to find and book rental cars.  And, no, we are not sponsored by Autoslash and this post contains no Affiliate links. We just think it is that good! 

Save Over 25% on Rental Cars Using Autoslash

On average, this website saves us upwards of 25% on a rental car. For example, when we traveled to Alaska, we saved over 40% on our rental car through using Autoslash and a free Emerald Club Loyalty Program membership. (See Alaska Road Trip: The Perfect Guide) .

On Autoslash, you input where, when and what type of rental car you need.  You also select all the different loyalty clubs you are part of (Emerald Club, Southwest Rapid Rewards, etc.) and other pertinent memberships (Costco, AAA, etc.) before submitting this information to the website. 

After this information is entered, you are sent an email (within a couple hours) with the best rental car options that exist for you.  You can then reserve a rental car but typically no payment is due until you pick it up. 

Sign Up for Autoslash to Monitor for Better Deals

You can also sign up for Autoslash monitoring and if Autoslash finds a better rate for your rental car after you book it, you will get an email and then can change your reservation.  We have saved $50+ before on our original booking price with Autoslash monitoring.

We highly recommend using Autoslash and we now use it exclusively to book our rental cars.  

Do you have any other tips on how to save on a rental car? We’d love to hear your feedback and questions. Please leave us a comment!

And remember, Always Have A Trip Planned!

Fit all of your Luggage in a Carry-On

When flying, we rarely check luggage.  This not only saves us money, but time.  Fitting all your travel items into a carry-on bag can be challenging but once you get the hang of it, you’ll never want to wait for your checked luggage at the airport again.

When we went to Europe for 3 weeks in July 2016 , we both only brought carry-on bags. Since then, we’ve continued to master the art of fitting all of our travel items in a carry-on bag.  On that trip alone, not checking bags saved us approximately $240 in baggage fees (due to flying between cities numerous times).  Moreover, only having carry-on bags makes us much more mobile and reduces the time we spend in the airport. 

Furthermore, we have both previously had luggage ruined and/or lost by different airlines and find we prefer to be in control of our luggage as well.  Trust us–it’s not fun to arrive at your destination or come home to all of your luggage items ruined or lost. 

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links. That means that, at no cost to you, we may get a small commission if you purchase through these links. This helps us keep providing travel resources for you!

Here are our top 7 tips on how to fit all of your luggage in a carry on:

1. Pick versatile clothing pieces

We recommend sticking to mainly neutral colors so you are able to make numerous outfits out of the same pieces.  Natalie typically packs one or two colorful pieces that serve as an outfit on their own (usually a colorful dress or two) but she tries to really minimize these to maximize space. Try to pack jackets and sweaters that can be used with numerous outfits as well since these tend to be more bulky items. 

2. Set out everything you plan to bring, plan out potential outfits and eliminate excess

Put together all of your potential outfits.  Natalie tries on her clothes with each potential outfit in mind, usually having at least 2 extra options for the total trip.  Natalie will take pictures in each outfit and then eliminate outfits and clothing pieces through this process.  This also makes it easier to pick out outfits on your trip when you already have in mind what you were going to wear.  Sam is not nearly as calculated in his clothing choices while packing but keeps a similar mindset of minimalism. 

3. Use packing squares and roll your clothes

Packing squares will really help you organize your luggage and fit more in your bag.  We typically have 2 or 3 packing squares per bag and find them really helpful for both space maximization and organization.  It is much easier to find items when you have them separated out in different packing squares versus just thrown into your suitcase. We also recommend you roll your clothing (i.e roll all your t-shirts together) to really maximize space. You’ll be surprised by how much more you can fit in your bag when you roll your clothes.  

Use this link for the packing cubes we use: Compression Packing Cubes for Travel, Packing Cube Set (Grey, 5 Piece Set)

Use this link for the compact hanging toiletries bag we use: HaloVa Toiletry Bag. It’s great for space maximization saving you vital extra bathroom space by being able to hang on the door (or elsewhere).

4. Get a bag that will maximize/allow you the most space

We have one bag that maximizes space–an EBag–as well as a normal sized but high quality normal sized–SwissGear– backpack.  Natalie uses the Ebag that is the maximum carry-on size because she always has more items. Sam always does just fine with the smaller normal sized carry on bag. 

EBag and SwissGear Backpack we use

For a heavy packer, we would recommend getting the EBag or another backpack that is the maximum carry on size.  Natalie never flies without her EBag and considers it a game changer when packing.  Beware though, from our experience, the EBag is perfectly sized but not as comfortable wearing for extended periods of time.

Use this link to get your own EBag: eBags Mother Lode Travel Backpack (Solid Black)

Otherwise, if you are a concise packer, using a normal sized comfortable backpack is your best bet.  One with a lot of different compartments may be helpful for organization too, especially if you are doing a lot of moving around on your trip. The one Sam uses even has a USB charging port.

Use this link to get your own SwissGear Backpack: SWISSGEAR 5358 ScanSmart Laptop Backpack |BONUS TSA Lock Included| Fits Most 15 Inch Laptops| USB Charging Port

5. Wear your largest items

On the plane, if you are trying to maximize carry-on space, plan to wear your largest coat and hiking boots (or bulkiest shoes).  You can always take your bulky coat off when you get on the plane. Bonus–it’s nice to have your coat on the plane if you are cold or want to use it as a blanket. 

6. Remember, you get one personal item in addition to your carry on.  Maximize this! 

It still needs to fit under the seat in front of you but you can essentially bring another small backpack, duffel bag or large purse.  Sam typically brings a small duffel bag that can be collapsed down if not being used and Natalie brings a large purse.   We have learned how to fit a lot into these bags as well and it is nice to have the extra space if you buy something.  

Use this link to get the bag Natalie uses: Tom Clovers Crossbody Bag. This purse is a Mary Poppins bag with how much you can fit in it!

If you are looking for a smaller versatile purse, this is the one Natalie uses: Travelon Anti-theft Heritage Crossbody Bag, Pewter. This bag is great for traveling as it has built-in security with it’s locking zippers and anti-slash technology.

7. Don’t forget to weigh your carry on

Check maximal weight for carry ons on each airline you will be flying with. Many airlines will not weigh carry ons. However, if they do, you do not want to be stuck checking a bag because it is overweight. The easiest way to check the bag’s weight is to step on your scale with/without the carry-on and do a little math.

Bonus tip: Be mindful of items that are allowed in a carry on versus require checking a bag. Pay special attention to liquid sizes. This mindfulness should apply to souvenirs you may purchase to bring back with you. Avoid getting stuck checking a bag or having to throw out a purchased item.

We hope this post helps you fit all of your items into your carry on luggage.  Any tips you’d add to our list?  We’d love to hear your feedback or questions.  Please leave us a comment!

And remember, Always Have A Trip Planned!

5 Ways to Save on Flights

Who wouldn’t want to know how to save money on flights? Throughout our travels, we have really learned how to save on airfare.  We have particularly gotten good at saving money on international flights.  Typically, we pay less than $500 per person round trip to any major city in Europe but that wasn’t always the case. Here are our top five airfare savings tricks.

Fun Fact: We met on this very puddle jumper plane in 2013 and have never stopped traveling together since.

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links. That means that, at no cost to you, we may get a small commission if you purchase through these links. This helps us keep providing travel resources for you!

1. Be Flexible with Location and Time 

Be flexible on your location and timeframe to save on airfare for flights.  For our first Europe trip, we grossly overpaid for our flights because we could only go on certain dates and we had specific locations picked out.  We do not regret that we bought these tickets for this timeframe (because it was an amazing once-in-a-lifetime trip) but if we had more flexibility, we would have saved a lot on our flights. 

Make a List of 3-5 Potential Trip Locations

Now, instead of picking out certain dates and locations, we pick a handful of places we want to go and determine what location is most cost effective during the time we plan to travel.  There are so many cool places to explore in this world that you always have options.  For example, we planned to go to Hawaii in March of 2019 but flights were $900+ roundtrip per person so we decided to go to Spain and Portugal instead when we found flights for $450 roundtrip per person.  We also try to be flexible with the days we travel.  For example, leaving on a Tuesday instead of a Thursday might save you $100+ per person. 

Use Google Flights to Compare Different Dates/Locations

We typically use Google Flights to search for airfare and then use the links provided on there to book flights.  Google flights is the most user friendly and straightforward platform we have used, making it easy to compare airfare costs on different days of the week. We would not recommend other websites such as SkyScanner and Mumondo to search for flights as we find them quite frustrating to use. Although these websites may show airfares that are about $50+ less per person than Google Flights, there is usually a catch to these prices, such as extra fees that are not shown until checkout. Also search in private browsers at first to avoid any “perceived” price adjustments that occur after the internet knows you are searching.

2. Subscribe to Scott’s Cheap Flights

This is a service you can subscribe to for free that will send you alerts about flights that are on-sale and mistake low fares.  The emails will list general flight patterns from different cities that are on sale and general dates.  You then have to go on Google Flights and see what dates the sales actually apply to. We always get the emails and then do Google Flight searches for days we know we are off/could potentially use the airfare. Flights deals typically only last for 48 hours or less and you need to be ready to book ASAP with these alerts because the deals can go away at any time.

We have used this free service to book 3 trips to Europe for $400-$500 per person round trip from Chicago (typically flights $850 + per person round trip).  We have found the free version alone to be very helpful but there is also a paid option for the premium version of Scott’s Cheap Flights that gives you access to exclusive flight deals not offered to free subscribers, particularly on domestic deals. The premium version is definitely worth the money if you are doing a lot of traveling in one year as you will typically save over $100/flight.

Use this link for a FREE 2 week trial of Premium Scott’s Cheap Flights

3. Don’t Check a Bag (if it’s not included)

 Not checking a bag will not only save you money, it can cost upwards of $60 per bag (if it is not included in your fare), but it will also save you time at the airport and we all know the saying, “time is money”.  We have had some terrible experiences with our luggage getting damaged and/or lost and try to avoid checking a bag as often as possible.  It costs more and is more of a hassle. See post on How to Fit all your Luggage in a Carry-On. (Coming soon!) 

4. Don’t Upgrade

Are those couple of extra inches or centimeters really worth hundreds of dollars in upgrade costs?  Chances are, you are still going to feel cramped.  We have never flown anything other than economy and we have survived.  Some people tell us they “have to” upgrade but this is a preference, not a need.  We could plan another overseas trip with just the money we have saved not upgrading our flights.  

5. Check Numerous Airports

If you are close to numerous airports, it makes sense to check several airports.  For example, we live in Milwaukee but typically fly out of Chicago O’Hare because it is less expensive due to it being a much bigger flight hub.  However, we always check flight options/costs out of Chicago O’Hare, Chicago Midway and Milwaukee Mitchell International. 

On our Trip to Morocco, it was actually less expensive and took the same amount of time to leave from Milwaukee Mitchell International when comparing it to Chicago O’Hare.  Also, check different arrival airports. When we went to London, flights were $400+ less per person flying into the less frequented Gatwick than the more popular Heathrow airport.  Both airports are located relatively equidistant from the city center so it made more sense to fly into Gatwick rather than Heathrow. 

We hope this post helps you save on flights and start your next adventure.  Another great way to save while flying is to not check a bag. Please see How to Fit all your Luggage in a Carry-On for more savings tricks.

Do you have any other tips on how to save on flights? We’d love to hear your feedback or questions.  Please leave us a comment!

And remember, Always Have A Trip Planned!

What You Can Learn From Being Charged By A Bear

First, let’s start with what happened before we go through the takeaways from our experience. 

While hiking in Alaska and going around a tight, wooded switchback, we stumbled upon a mama black bear with her three cubs. Keep in mind that these were Alaska sized bears, not your smaller sized lower 48 bears. These bears were only about 25 feet away from us initially.  Mama bear was on the trail and her three cubs were in the tree next to her.  When we startled each other on the trail, the mama bear snarled, stomped her feet and then started running towards us…


This bear got within 10 feet of us or as we say ‘touching distance.’  As the bear was running towards us, Sam simultaneously made himself very big and started yelling. After what seemed like the scariest seconds of our lives, the bear thankfully backed down.  The bear then went back to the tree with her cubs, but continued to maintain eye contact with us. Then, we slowly backed down the trail, with our hands still in the air and yelling.  We were worried the bear might charge us again but thankfully she did not.  In retrospect, we find this “freeze, hands in the air!” moment a bit comical. However, in the moment, it was anything but comical.

Unlike Sam, Natalie froze in this life-threatening moment for several seconds before following Sam’s actions and also throwing her hands in the air/yelling. Natalie’s reaction prompted us to write this post so hopefully, if you ever have an encounter like ours, you do not also freeze. In addition to being aware and mindful of your surroundings…

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links. That means that, at no cost to you, we may get a small commission if you purchase through these links. This helps us keep providing travel resources for you!

1. Carry bear spray in your hand while hiking, NOT on the side of your backpack

If there was anytime to use bear spray on our trip, this would have been it.  However, we were carrying our bear spray on the side of Sam’s backpack and there was not enough time to grab it.   Prior to this encounter, we saw people hiking with bear spray in their hands and we thought it was excessive.  It was NOT excessive.  If you truly have a bear encounter where you need to use the bear spray and if it is anywhere other than your hand, you probably will not have time to grab.  We saw many people hiking with guns as well.  Interestingly enough, a study was done on using bear spray versus a gun in a bear encounter and the jist of this study is that 9/10 times, you are more accurate at hitting the bear with the bear spray than a gun, likely because bear spray is more broad and easier to use in a high-pressure situation.  Take this information as you please but please carry bear spray in your hand while hiking.  Also, make sure you know how to use the bear spray, otherwise, it’s useless! 

Buy your bear spray using this link: Bear Repellent Spray -EPA Certified, Maximum Strength & Distance

2. Make noise, A LOT of it

The park ranger we encountered in Kenai Fjords National Park advised us that carrying a conversation should be enough to scare a bear away. Clearly, it was not as Sam and I were talking AND intermittently clapping when this encounter happened. We also were wearing bear bells.  Admittedly, we were not being very loud while talking and definitely could have been making more noise with more frequent/louder clapping.  Typically, bears really want nothing to do with you and if they hear you coming, they’ll likely get out of there before you ever see them.  We recommend talking at a louder-than-normal level, especially if there are only two of you, as well as clapping loud frequently.  

3. Hike in a group of three or more

Did you know that there are rarely bear attacks in groups of 3 or more while hiking and there has never been a documented bear attack in a group of 6 or more while hiking?  This fact is likely because the more people you hike with, the more noise you make and the more likely a bear is to get scared away.  Moral of the story, hike with as many people as possible.  After our encounter, we went back up the trail with a group of 8 for several wooded miles and then did the rest of the hike with one other couple (4 people total).

4. Practice what to do if you do encounter a bear

If hiking in a group, making a lot of noise and being aware of your surroundings is not enough to prevent a bear encounter, it is important you know what to do.  Below is a link to the bear safety page on the National Parks website. We recommend reviewing this information and then drilling yourself on what you do in different bear encounter situations.  Remember, what you should do depends on the situation and type of bear you encounter. We always say, when we have kids, before we take them hiking, we will be doing bear drills with them to make sure they are prepared.  There is a reason people do fire drills so why not do bear drills?  There are signs at most of the trail heads about what to do in a bear encounter situation so take the time to review that information every time you see it. 

What to do in a Bear Encounter, Picture from Kenai Fjords National Park Alaska

 National Parks Service Bear Safety

Final Thoughts

We are VERY grateful for Sam and his clear thinking in a true fight or flight moment.  Also, we are very thankful for the friends we made on the trail (after turning back) who helped us find the courage, through safety in numbers, to go back up the trail (past the spot where we encountered the bears) and finish this once in a lifetime hike to the Harding IceField in Kenai Fjords National Park.  To this day, 1 year later when we are writing this post, the whole experience still feels surreal and unbelievable.  Sam literally saved our lives.  Anytime we have a disagreement, Sam always can always say “… but remember that time I saved us from getting attacked by a bear?” As to Natalie will reply “it was one time!”

We hope this post helps you prepare for any potential bear encounters you may have while hiking.  Do you have any other tips on how to prevent bear encounters? We’d love to hear your feedback or questions.  Please leave us a comment!

And remember, Always Have A Trip Planned!

For information on hikes where you may encounter bears, please see: