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Travelblog Gone with the Wine

Travelblog and lifestyleblog. Life under the Californian sun - Gone with the Wine. Trips, food and wine from all over the world. Solo and family adventures.

Filtering by Category: Travel

Hiking with the Kids

Paula Gaston

We are huge nature lovers and we enjoy being outside during the weekends and on our vacations. Before we had kids, we used to go for longer and more challenging hikes here close to home and in national parks. We liked hiking because it gave us an opportunity on exercise while being in nature. And that was very easy here in California where we have a lot of mountains and hills. After having kids our hobby changed drastically, but we haven´t given up on it. In fact, we are always waiting for opportunity to go out hiking as a family.

Even though it is always about getting out and moving, our main focus on hiking now is more spending time together and enjoying nature. The trails have gotten shorter and easier for us, and we are especially happy every time that our kids learn or see something new. Oh, how much fun it is to run into a lizard or a chipmunk while hiking! At the same time one will learn a lot about plants, animals and being in nature. I think it is good that from a young age the kids will learn some survival skills so they will know for example, which plants they shouldn´t touch or which animals not to approach. And they will learn to respect nature and protect it.



It is better to stay on trails that you can for sure manage when hiking with kids. If you get too adventurous and choose too difficult ones, you might have to turn back in the middle which is never fun. Though that has happened to us a few times, we try to make the best of the situation. One time we had to turn back inside a cave because it was getting too difficult to walk down with a little one. We changed the trail and tried to spot some condors instead, and we still had so much fun. The main thing is that you know you can make the trail before it gets dark and wont get lost, and that everyone has a good time!

I think that it is easier to hike with a smaller baby or bigger kid than a toddler. A baby will go wherever mommy or daddy will, since he or she will be in a carrier, and bigger kids can already walk longer distances. However, a toddler who just learned how to walk, wants to do it by herself, but is slow and gets tired quickly. Luckily our little girl still fits into a baby backpack and likes to be there. We usually start walking with her in it, and then after our snack break she gets to walk a little. When she gets tired, she will be in the backpack again. For a bigger child you can always bring some entertainment with you. For example, a note book to write notes about things she has seen, or binoculars. National Park here in the USA often hand out Junior Ranger booklets, which kids can fill out while on their visit.


The timing can definitely affect how your hiking trip will go. Here in California, it is often hot later in the day, so we prefer early morning for hiking. Otherwise, afternoons can be good after the kids wake up from a nap and have all that new energy. A baby backpack is great, since it is easy to nap in it while hiking. Many babies fall asleep easily from the gentle rocking that comes from walking.

Evenings are not always working so well, since everyone is already kind of tired and it’s hard to get kids to get excited about things. Although, we have sometimes done some hikes to see the sunset. At those times we might have pyjamas in the car which will be put on before the drive home. In that way, when we get home, we can just lift them straight to bed.



Hiking is one hobby that we have been happy to invest in. There are especially two things that can make hiking with kids a lot easier; good shoes and good carriers or bags. Sometimes, I see families where the parents have trendy and expensive gear, but their kids are walking in the forest with sandals. It is important to make sure that the kids are comfortable walking also. Our kids walk in sneakers, but once they are big enough to walk longer trails, we get them actual hiking shoes. They are not only great for walking a long time, but they also protect your ankles.

Investing in a good baby carrier or backpack will eventually pay itself back in how practical they are. And you don’t have to spend all you’ve got; there is plenty of good second hand gear for sale. With a smaller baby we used a baby carrier but when the baby learns to sit, the backpack is even better. It is easier to carry, more sturdy and good to sit on since the seats are usually adjustable. Most of them come with a sun shade, and you can carry diapers and other baby stuff in the backpack’s pockets. Our backpack also has a removable pillow where the baby can lean on if they fall asleep. At first, I was bothered that I wasn’t able to see my child on my back, but my friend gave me the tip of bringing along a little mirror. Some backpacks actually come with a mirror that is attached to one of the pockets. The same goes also with other backpacks and bags. The more comfortable they are to carry, the better hiking experience you will have.

Here is our packing list for a shorter hike: shoes, sunhat, sunscreen, sunglasses, baby carrier or backpack (with sunshade, pillow and mirror), diapers and wipes, changing pad, a bag for trash and dirty diapers, snack and hand sanitizer, lots of water, phone and quite often also a camera.

Also depending on the trail we might also need a map, flashlight or headlamp, mosquito repellant, etc.

When it comes to clothes, I always favour layers when going out with kids. Then it is easy to take extra layers off if it gets hot or add some if it gets chilly. Sometimes the mornings can be cold and I will use long pants but even then I might pack my shorts to my backpack.


Hiking with kids can be so much fun and enjoyable! You can start with a shorter trail and when you see how it goes, move on to a little more challenging area. The most important thing is to enjoy the outdoors and the family time!


Back to Smokey California

Paula Gaston

So the summer in Finland came to an end and the school have started both in California and Finland. We returned back home last Thursday, and have been trying to get used to the American life. First days we were wondering about various things: Oh, this what our own bed felt like? Why are the toilet seats so low? What an earth did I used to cook for dinner? Even the hotel close to our house looks totally different now since it has been painted while we were gone.

The greatest thing was of course to get all your own things back that you missed during the summer, and especially my own car! Our daughter missed her own room and toys, while our baby has grown into a toddler, and many clothes found from home don’t even fit anymore.


Besides the freshly painted hotel, there has been one disturbing thing you can see from our window. The grey sky. And han’t been because of the clouds, it was smoke which was spread all around the Bay Area. The next couple days there was a warning of unhealthy air quality. Forest fires all around the California have been spreading the smoke to the Bay Area. Due to the global warning, some have said that California has turned into a matchbox. If the summer in Finland was unexceptionally warm, here it has been cooler than usual. For me that is fine since I don’t like hot weather, but in over all it is concerning.

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Many people vacationing have been disappointed this year that Yosemite National Park has been partially closed or covered with smoke due to the fires. At this moment, there are fires total in eleven different places. The number has gone down since we got back home. Yosemite is part of the UNESCO Heritages Areas and about one million people visit there yearly, so you can imaging how many people this have affected.

If you traveling to California, you can see the current fires at CAL FIRE site. 



The day before schools started our local florist was giving out some flowers to kids to bring to their teachers.

Our first week we were quite jet lagged. Our older daughter got into the new rhythm almost right away, but the baby has been waking up early at mornings to play. Only couple nights ago she slept without getting up, but she still wakes up and rolls around in the bed. I of course, have to get up when the baby gets up no matter how tired I would be. But I’m sure we will get through this soon.

The best way to do that is to keep up a daily routine. But even that we are still trying to figure it out since our older daughter started the first grade and their day is completely different than in kindergarten. And this week they have had a shortened days. The nap time for the baby should be great for the future school schedule, but this week we have had to play with the timings a little bit. We will see how things develop and how our new daily routine will feel like after the school really starts.

But now, greeting from California and see you later! Next week we have a lot of fun things coming up!

What All Can Go Wrong Before Our Trip

Paula Gaston

That long awaited day is here! Tomorrow we start our journey from Silicon Valley to Europe... at least I hope so! But like many times, things haven't gone so smoothly. When you travel with kids there are so many things that can go wrong, but that is not the only thing threatening our trip. Well what else can there be? 

Photo: Pixabay

Photo: Pixabay


Oh well, this is the classic case. A day before we are supposed to leave, our daughter wakes up with a tummy ache and starts going to the bathroom every five minutes. Maybe a bladder infection? All I can do is to reach out on my phone and call the doctor, but the timing couldn't be better. Today we were supposed to pack, do some last minute shopping, and other things. But let's try to stay positive; We would rather take a bladder infection than stomach flu or something that would prevent us from flying. 


The Finnish weather is showing us its best side. Part of May, and the beginning of June have been beautiful in Finland, warmer than California in fact. But the headline in the newspaper went something like this: "Everything you don't want in midsummer weather". So we are expecting thunder, heavy rains and cold weather. On Wednesday we are taking a smaller plane to get to my hometown, and of course for that day they predict high winds. Yay! Oh well, is there anything good in this? The midsummer weekend we are probably still jet lagged, so we are happy just to spend time with family and friends, not matter if it's indoors or outdoors. Maybe later we will get to enjoy some sun. 


The weekend goes really fast when you are trying to prepare yourself for a longer trip. We have done some last minute shopping and cleaning. My husband has stressed out about work, since it is not very common to take this long of a vacation in the U.S. He will come home before us though. And that's how it often is, the last days at work before vacations are super busy when you are trying to make sure everything is taken care of. Anything positive in this? Well, maybe he can finally relax when we get to Europe and let loose. And it's always good to remember that the family is most important! 


In last week's Finish news it was expected that the airport workers would strike. Then the strike was moved from last week to this Tuesday (our travel day) and then to Thursday. Even though the strike would have started on Thursday, some airlines might start cancelling flights as early as Tuesday. Great! I find it difficult to say anything positive about this, for us anyway. How about some excitement on our trip?

Finnish news article about Finnair's possible flight cancellations

Finnish news article about Finnair's possible flight cancellations

So here are a few things to get you on high blood pressure meds before a trip. Let's hope everything goes well after all, and our vacation will be a successful one! Finland here we come!

Tips from a Local for a Road Trip in the USA

Paula Gaston

Before I moved to the U.S., I was often here visiting. We did multiple road trips and went all over California. Luckily I had a friend who knew how things here worked. Still every once in a while there were moments when I was doubtful whether we knew what we were doing, and I still have sometimes. That is why I decided to write down some information for all those who are planning a road trip in America.

When I started writing this post, different kinds of things from travel insurance to renting a car came to mind. I will later write another post in generally about visiting the USA since otherwise this post would become way too long. This will be about road tripping only. And then of course, we have to remember that I live in California, so some of the things might not apply in other states. Hopefully someday I will be able to visit every state, but for now I can only talk about the ones I have been to. So if you have something to add, please share it in the comments section as it will be very helpful to those who are planning a road trip to some other states. 



America is huge and the distances are really big, so while planning your route you should allow yourself a lot of time. Especially if you are passing some big cities or mountains, calculate more time on your schedule than what your navigator says. In metropolitan areas you are most likely to get stuck in traffic, especially between 6 am. and 10 am, or between 3 pm. and 7 pm. Also while driving mountain roads it usually is slower due to the twists and turns of the road. And then of course, there are those extra stops when you get hungry or need a restroom break that your navigator doesn't take into account. We also sometimes stop to take some photographs, especially when driving through some scenic area. If you see a "Vista point" sign, you might want to check it out, as it refers to some kind of an area with a great view. So plan your route as flexibly as possible. Many times the best trips come by just winging it when ever you see something you like. 

The best map applications used by the locals are absolutely Google Maps, Waze and Apple Maps. To use these, you will need a data plan, so a good option for this is to rent a navigator with your rental car. The newer cars usually have a navigator built in, so before renting one, make sure your car doesn't already have one. One great help is to always save your route in offline mode in Google Maps for example, or even to carry a paper map with you. Since the USA is a huge country, you will most likely be driving in a "no service area" every once in a while. Map applications will also tell you about possible road closures and tolls. 

A good app for planning a road trip is "Roadtrippers" for example. You can plan your route, check the map, and get suggestions of sights that you will be passing while driving. I have found many cool places with it that I never knew existed. Roadtrippers uses Google Maps as a base.  



As a visitor, you can drive and rent a car in the U.S. with a foreign driver's licence. They actually don't even acknowledge the international driver's licence here, so don't bother getting it because of your trip to the U.S. Each state has their own driver's licence and their own laws, so what ever is the law in California might not be in New York. If you want to read more about driver's licence or traffic laws,  you should be able to find some kind of a drive's manual from the DMV page of each state. Here for example is the one from California California Driver Handbook (2018).

You should note that the foreign driver's licence usually does not qualify as an ID while going into clubs or casinos, so when going out, you should always carry your passport with you. It's a good idea to carry a photocopy of your important documents with you. While traveling, I usually snap a photo of my passport or licence, and my rental car licence plate on my phone. Many hotels will ask for the licence plate number when checking in. 


Driving in the U.S. is actually not very complicated at all. From time to time there can be a lot of traffic depending on where you are, and some big cities can require a little more concentration while driving there. One difference at least to most European cities are right turns, and the STOP signs that are everywhere. So traffic lights allow turning to the right on red unless there is a sign forbidding it. For intersections with STOP signs, is first come first serve. If both arrive at the same time, the person on the right goes first. When you get used to these two rules, you wish they would be used elsewhere as well.

Speed limits vary based on what state you are in. If you want to a drive little bit slower than most on the freeway, you should stay in the outer-most lane (slow lane) where the inner-most lane is often called the "fast" lane. Many metropolitan areas also have car pool lanes or some kind of Express lanes. The car pool is marked as HOV or with a diamond shaped symbol  . Look for the signs indicating who can use the car pool lane and when.

Many times while driving longer distances in the USA you will notice, that the next gas station or food stop can be far away. In case you are in the mountains or desert areas for example, it is always a good idea to get gas whenever it is available. Some gas stations don't accept foreign credit cards unless you walk inside and show it to the cashier. If you need to check the air in your tires, at least according to Californian law the gas stations can't charge money for it if you buy gas. Many people don't know that and of course, they wont advertise it either. So if you need air, just go inside after getting gas and ask them to unlock the air pump.  



Parking is allowed on the road side when there is no sign that forbids it. Parking can also be restricted by the color of the curb. Solid red colour means no parking or stopping. On a green color make sure you check any signs that will tell you how long you can park, usually it is 15 or 30 minutes. If there is no paint or signs you are usually free to park on the road.

In the big cities it is often easier to find parking from parking garages than from the road. Unfortunately though, they are pretty often quite expensive. Some smaller cities offer garage parking for free. You can easily check the closest parking areas from Google Maps, or for example from BestParking app, which also shows the cost of parking and opening hours.

For a couple times on our trips, we have forgotten where we parked our car. Many parking garages are huge and multiple levels, and they all look the same. We have started to take a photo with our phone of the parking spot number or the level number. Sometimes I even take a picture of the road name so I know how to get back to the car. It makes life so much easier when you don't have to walk around for hours to look for your car.

It is also good to remember, that you should not leave anything that looks valuable in a visible place in your car. For example, any kinds of bags, cameras, phones and such are liable to get stolen. Especially in the bigger cities the car thieves are actively looking for cars where people left their belongings in the open. I understand that often while on a trip the only option is to leave things in your car. In those cases I try to cover bags and other things with a blanket or a towel. Knock on wood, so far we have been lucky not to have our car broken into. 



It is easy to give advice to people about what you should take with you on a road trip when you live in the U.S., and have everything needed at home. But I realise most of you will fly over from another country and can not bring so much with you. However, there are some items that you can buy very cheaply when you arrive in the U.S., and they will make your trip more comfortable, and then there are some things that you absolutely need. 


Always carry plenty of water and some food with you. As I mentioned earlier, the distances here are long, and sometimes you can get caught up in extreme weather too. If your car breaks down in the Nevada desert, you will be happy that you brought some water with you. Also, some of the national parks that people love to visit are in the mountains, in forests or the desert where the phones wont work. Unfortunately every year here we read in the news how someone got lost or got stuck with their car in a remote location without any food and water. There have been cases where those people have been found in pretty poor condition or even dead. So it is always better to be well prepared when you hit the road. 


One of the most helpful items on a road trip is a cooler. For example, you can get one from Walmart pretty cheaply before you start your trip. At the same time you can buy water and other supplies. We always have a cooler with us which I fill up with ice cubes. Then I add water bottles and other perishable foods. When we get to the hotel, I empty the cooler by placing the foods in the fridge and throwing away the ice. When we are ready to continue our drive, we get some more ice from the hotel ice machine. Ice is also sold at the gas stations and by the doorways of grocery stores.

Last summer my friend taught me a great trick; we placed few water bottles in the freezer in our hotel fridge and the next morning they were frozen. We used them as ice packs in our cooler until the water melted and the water was drinkable again. This can only be done by the store bought bottles which we usually have in our garage in our earthquake safety kit. Otherwise we use reusable bottles, but on a road trip the store bought bottles are very handy because you can just buy a whole case in your trunk. At least here in California you can recycle those bottles by leaving them in recycling bins instead of trash cans.  



In case you are driving through the mountains, make sure to check the road conditions before leaving. In some places there might be snow even during June. If there is a chance of a snow storm, make sure to carry chains with you. Some car rental companies have chains, but you can also buy them from Walmart for example. Depending on how long you need them, you should calculate whether it makes sense to buy or rent. If you drive through the mountains while chains are required and you don't have them, you will have to buy them from one of the road side stores where you pay double or triple price.  

You can find information about road closures and conditions from here. In case you are visiting some national parks, they usually update all the relevant information on their website. And you can always call your destination, for example to your hotel, and ask about the current weather conditions. 


It is always a good idea to have a little survival kit with you. Some of the items to carry with you are; bandages, disinfectant wipes, a bottle opener and a flash light. I usually also carry some baby wipes with me and they have saved us from many messes in the car, and they can be used to wipe your hands before eating. I also carry some empty plastic or paper bags with me. Bigger ones can serve as a trash bags in the car, and smaller ones are good for snacks or other items that you want to keep clean. And for a few times we have needed the famous sick bag while driving on mountain roads. 

Always also carry some change with you. You can use the coins in parking meters and bills to pay road tolls. Some states the freeway tolls are collected as coins.


Depending on the trip, we might sometimes leave the reservations for the last minute. We might even book the hotel on the same day when we see how far we can drive. I have noticed that the online prices are often better than what you get by just walking to the front desk. Some hotels will match the price but few times we have stepped outside to make a reservation and then walked back in. It sounds so silly but hey, if you get a room cheaper that way and they wont accommodate you, why shouldn't you then? But if you are driving around in a popular area during the holiday season, I would definitely recommend booking the room beforehand. For example the Pacific Coast Highway hotels in California during the summer are often full booked.

I sometimes use either or to find a room on the road. I always check though if the hotel has the room with a cheaper price on their own website. If you are not sure how far you will be able to drive, you should read the cancellation policy before booking the room. We usually travel with kids, so we prefer having breakfast at the hotel. It makes it faster for us to get out on the road again when we don't have to look for a breakfast place first. Hotel breakfasts in the USA varies a lot, so be sure to read the reviews first. That is how you find out what they truly offer. In big cities the AirBnB might be cheaper than a hotel, and naturally motels and hostels are the cheapest options. 


Wow, this was a lot! And I will add more if something comes to my mind later, or someone will point out something important I forgot. Until then, have fun on your road trips and stay safe!

And here are some of our most memorable road trips. I think we most liked the ones at the famous Pacific Coast Highway aka Highway 1 in California, our two road trips in beautiful Utah, and the Loneliest Road in America (Highway 50) which is in Nevada. Enjoy!

The Beast of California's Pacific Coast Highway
The Loneliest Road in America - would you dare to drive it through?
Walking in the Steps of Dinosaurs in Arches and Canyonlands National Parks
Bryce Canyon, Utah - My most unforgettable national park experience


Small Luxuries on My Travels

Paula Gaston

All these pictures are from my Instagram account. You can follow me @paulagaston

When travelling it is nice to spoil yourself a little. We usually don't travel in business class or stay at five star resorts, even though we have tried both of them. The luxury on our trips comes from small things. We usually like to explore our surroundings and be in nature, so staying in a resort sometimes feels like a waste.

At least the following things bring us joy and feel like a luxury on our trips:




We love to try local foods and we especially love seafood. When travelling we eat out a lot which definitely feels like a luxury to me, since I don't have to cook all the time. All the moms know what I mean! You don't have to think "when do I have time" or "what ingredients do we have". You can just sit down and enjoy.



Every country or state seem to have their own drink. It is always nice to try something new and different. When traveling on wine regions we always choose a local wine, and my husband likes to try local beers as well. We sometimes also get a cocktail for an aperitif. 



You can't ever go to the theatre too much. I feel like we don't do that often enough, but most trips we end up going to a museum at least. There are however, some cities or countries that you can't leave without seeing a show or a musical first. Also, some seasons require an occasional visit to the opera or ballet. 



We are huge coffee snobs. When home we always grind our coffee from fresh beans. Finding a good cafe while traveling feels like luxury since most coffees served in hotels are like poison. I am not a big friend of Starbucks or other chains; the best coffees are served at small, independent cafes. 



Best ever! I love it when I get to escape the city somewhere where I can only hear the sound of nature. There is nothing better than that.



And then there are moments when you really are not in a rush and you can totally relax. Very often this happens on a vacation when you are travelling.



Here in California, I am sometimes missing a real winter. My childhood Christmases were always white, so I miss that. Especially when the evenings are dark and Christmas lights are already up, it would be such a luxury to have some snow. It really brings the Holiday feeling!

All Nippon Airlines business class dinner.

All Nippon Airlines business class dinner.

A warm crater at Homestead Resort in Utah.

A warm crater at Homestead Resort in Utah.


OK, fine. I can't lie that I wouldn't enjoy if I sometimes got the first class treatment, that "real" luxury. Sometimes it is nice to stay in a better room, fly with more room for yourself or eat in a fine dining restaurant. Especially the last one is familiar to me due to my old job, and I still like to find great restaurants. But when you don't get these things every day, you will appreciate them more.

What is your luxury when you travel?