How to Make Your Immune System Stronger

How to Make Your Immune System Stronger

Being healthy has never been more important than the last few months. With COVID-19 spreading world wide, social distancing is the new trend and toilet paper is the hot commodity.  As we all become expert hand washers (wash vigorously for 30 seconds), learning how to make your immune system stronger is more important than ever.  As we may recall from Science class, the immune system protects the body against disease or other potentially damaging foreign bodies including viruses, bacteria and parasites, i.e. corona virus.  By building our immune system, the immune system can more effectively defend us from getting sick.  So what can you do to keep your body’s immune system healthy?

 

How to Build Your Immune System:

  • Get enough sleep – This means 6 to 8 hours each night.
  • Eat whole foods and avoid processed foods.
  • Stop Smoking – Smoking increases your chances of catching COVID-19, plus it weakens your respiratory system.
  • Avoid Sugar or complex carbs – Sugar increases inflammation in your body, causing your immune system to run less efficiently.
  • Reduce Stress – Stress weaken your immune system, leaving you more vulnerable to getting sick.  

   READ MORE How to Prevent Catching a Cold and Flu

So what do you do if you feel “under the weather” or if you have been exposed to people who are coughing or sneezing?  When I was traveling during the winter time, I always use to get sick after a plane ride.  Being in a closed confined space with hundreds of people on a plane, many who are sick or recovering from the cold or flu, I would always end up getting sick.  Recently, I’ve started taking a immune building supplement called Host Defense Comprehensive Immune Builder. It is made from 17 different mushrooms, designed to build and strengthen the immune system while providing cellular support by fighting free radicals.  After reseaching about the benefits of mushrooms, including building immune system *, cancer fighting properties**, lowering cholesterol, and high in Vitamin B & D.  The reason I use Host Defense Comprehensive Immune Builder is because it is all natural, Non-GMO, most importantly, grown in the United States. 

How I take the Host Defense Comprehensive Immune Building Supplement – I usually take the recommended dose of 2 supplements on an empty stomach because it is better absorbed. It doesn’t make me sick or queasy like some supplements.  If I feel like I am coming down with something, I will take 2 pills immediately and then take another 2 pills a few hours later.  Since I’ve started using this immune builder, I have never been sick, even when I am in close contact with people who are coughing and sneezing.  As you know, I am not a doctor, so this is my recommended dosage and I have tested it out on myself, my friends and family member and it has always worked. 

Other Immune Building Herbs & Supplements I recommend:

Propolis – Made from bees and is a great antiseptic, antibacterial, and antifungal.  Propolis is a great immune builder.  This is one of the supplements I always carry with me.  With Propolis, using a very reputable brand is important.  There were some brands I bought, even from Whole Foods, which were not as effective as others.  My favorite one is Brazilian Green Bee Propolis.  It works really well and can go in your carry on luggage.

Oil of Oregano– Known for for its antiviral, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant properties, it works really well, but it tastes really awful.  In fact, I use to video tape my friend’s reaction when they first try Oil of Oregano!  My favorite go to Oil of Oregano liquid is from North America Herb & Spice – Oil of Oregano.  This is also carry on airport friendly.  If you prefer pills or capsules, try the Puritan’s Pride Oil of Oregano Soft Gels.  No after taste and really reasonably priced.

Oil of Olive Leaf – Different from olive oil, the oil of olive leaf  has antioxidant, antibacterial, antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, and immune building properties. In my opinion, it tastes a little better than oil of oregano. My favorite liquid oil of olive leaf is Nature’s Answer Olive Leaf Extract.  My favorite capsules is Health Harmony’s Olive Leaf Extract  

I found with supplements, it is better to rotate every once in a while so your body doesn’t get use to it.  Currently, I am taking the mushroom supplements daily and adding in Propolis as needed.  Usually, I take the other herbal/nutritional supplements when I feel like I am coming down with something.   My dosing is 1 dropper full every 2-3 hours when you feel like you are getting sick.  Again, I am not a doctor, but I have found this dosage works really well for me and my friends and family.  Hope this helps and be safe.  =)

*Guggenheim, A., Wright, K. and Zwickey, H. (February 2014) Immune Modulation from Five Major Mushrooms:  Application to Intergrative Oncology  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4684115/

** Martin, K & Brophy, S.,(November 2010)  Commonly consumed and specialty dietary mushrooms reduce cellular proliferation in MCF-7 Human Breast cancer cells   https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1258/ebm.2010.010113

** Zhang, S., Sugawara, Y., Chen, S., Beelman, R., Tsuduki, T., Tomata, Y., Matsuyama, S., and Tsuji, I. (September 2019)  Mushroom consumption and incident risk of prostate cancer in Japan:  A pooled analysis of the Miyagi Cohort Study and the Ohsaki Cohort Study.   https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/ijc.32591

Lessons From Vanlife

Lessons From Vanlife

What comes to mind when you think of vanlife?  For me, my first impressions of vanlife was when I was scrolling through Instagram, looking at a pair of happy couple’s feet as the majestic view of a mountain is in the background of their opened van door.  Vanlife had a magical quality about it:  Traveling throughout the country, having absolute freedom and being able to experience all kinds of new adventures.  After my first months of being a full time vanlifer, this is what I’ve learned:

Hanging out with the pets in van

1.  I used to waste a lot of water.  Having a foot pump sync makes me realize just how much water I can conserve. I have a 6 gallon water tank that I use for hand washing, cleaning dishes, everything except for drinking.  I can easily go for 1 week without having to refill it. I think of all the times I keep the water running when I brush my teeth (sorry!  Yes, I was guilty of that.) and I realize how wasteful I was when I was living in a regular house. Having a foot pump sink also means I only run the water when it is time to rinse the dishes only, so water is not just running in the background.  This makes a huge difference in conservation.

6 Gallon Fresh Water Supply

2. Walmart have so much stuff! As a vanlifer, Walmart becomes a sort of safe haven. Many of them will allow you to park overnight, which I am really grateful for. Each region also has special items. For example, when I was in Alaska, Walmart had a huge supply of dehydrated food for camping or emergencies. Just a few weeks ago, I was driving north towards cooler weather, I realized I needed another sleeping bag for the kitties to hide under. I was able to pick sleeping bags, cat litter, as well as groceries AND crash for the night, all at the same place. I know it sounds silly, but when you are doing vanlife, efficiency matters (fuel savings) and having a one stop shop is amazing.

3. Truck Stops are awesome. Not only do they have some of the coolest gadgets, most of they have amazing showers for around $10-15 dollars. I have seen some for only $5, but most are closer to $15. They are clean and they even supply towels and toiletries. Plus, many will allow overnight parking, which is amazing when you are sleepy and didn’t bother to plan ahead to figure out where you are going to stop for the night.

4. Everyday, you will have the opportunity to practice patience. I travel with my 6 pets: 4 cats and 2 dogs. When the pets and I live in a space of less than 150 sq feet, we step on each other’s toes (literally sometimes!) All the pets seem to have their own opinions and not everyone gets along. Factor in the dogs are both working breeds, well, now it gets even more interesting. To be fair, most of the time, the pets are really well behaved. They travel well, and get along with each other. However, practically every day, one out of six animals will misbehave.

The cats love traveling in the van

I remember being asked, “Does it ever get lonely on the road?”

I replied,” I don’t have time to get lonely. I have 6 pets.”

The dogs love that front seat!

5. I’ve become the “Marie Kondo” of Vanlife. Seriously. Organizing and cleaning up after yourself becomes an essential part of life. First of all, if anything is left out, it automatically becomes a huge clutter because there is so little space. On top of that, if it is not strapped down or put up, it will fly as I am driving and most likely hit me or the pets. I’ve learned to be creative to take advantage of every nook and cranny of the van. Downsizing becomes an every day fact of life due to lack of space. After a while, I realized I don’t need most of my things stored in my attic at the house. What am I suppose to do with 2 huge storage containers of cocktail dresses anyway? There was a time in my life when I use to go to weekly events where I would dress up, but now a days, my uniform consists of wearing yoga pants & a cotton top. There is a great amount of freedom with simplicity. Next time I am back at the house, it is downsize time.

6. If it is not secured down, bungee down or Velco down, it will fall off. Every single thing in the van has to be securely fastened in place. At the end of the day, it is still a moving vehicle. I remember when I was going to Instagram looking at all the beautiful vanlife pictures. Marveling a the beautiful ceramic mugs hanging on the wall, I was inspired to create that in my van. Real life is very different. When you drive, things move and vibrate. The clinking sounds of mugs on the wall becomes really annoying after the first 2 miles. Those beautiful magnetic strips for knifes? Just imagine what would happen if you had to emergency stop? … No thank you. Once, I accidentally forgot to strap down the slow cooker and it toppled over, right on top of the dog. Luckily, the latches on the lid did a great job and nothing spilled, but my dog was not too happy about being woken up by a flying crock pot. Bungee cords and heavy duty Velcro are definitely a staple in my tool box.

7. The road less traveled really is better. National parks are great but I found some of my most memorable days are spend in smaller or less well know state or national parks. Sometimes, I would turn into a small dirt road to find it leads to a beautiful lake. Some of my favorite spots include Dixie National Forest in Utah, right by the more famous Bryce National Park, where I was able to see hoodoos and camp for free as well. Navajo National Monument in Arizona was filled with amazing canyons and Lone Rock in Glen Canyon in Utah is still one of my favorite places, with beautiful beaches you can drive on and lot of space to roam. While national parks are great, national forest and other lesser know parks give you more privacy and a chance to truly escape into nature without the crowds or tour buses. And of course, when you boondock or go to these less know places, usually you can camp for free. In fact, I have only paid for camping once this last year of living in a van.

One of my favorite free camping sites

8. If you plan to travel with pets, people will stare. At any given time, I have 3 pets in the cock pit. The two dogs sit in the front and one or two cats will be sleeping in on the dashboard by the windshield, soaking up the sun. It really is a funny sight. Be ready for tourist to come with cameras in hand taking photos of the pets in the van. =)

Cats love vanlife

9. People will react to you in two ways. They either think you are really cool living out of a van and traveling the country, or they think you are weird. Not that anyone has ever said it was weird, although a few have said I was “crazy” to traveling as a single girl by myself. Others people will think you are cool. When I was passing through Colorado I was looking for a healthy food shop to buy some supplements for the dog. There was a guy who looked like he was in his mid twenties skateboarding in the area. When he saw my van, he came up to me, with a huge smile and said he wanted to do the same thing. Once when I was washing my dog at the pet store, an older woman in her late 50’s came up to me and started asking me about my van. After walking my my van in the parking lot and seeing the pets, she hunted me down in the store so she can pick my brain. She was thinking about converting a van herself. After waiting for me to finish washing my dog, I gave her a tour. She was happy. =)

10. I’m a much nicer person with hot coffee in the morning. Especially when it’s 32 degrees Fahrenheit outside. After waking up to hungry cats meows and excited dogs pulling on their morning walks, having hot coffee really helps me with the practicing patience.

11) The secret to waking up at 6:00 am is simple. Go out to a place were there is no internet or cell phone service. Without social media, Netflix or the internet to keep me entertained, it is just me, the pets and a good book. Most nights, I’m asleep around 10:00 PM. Before vanlife, I am usually up until 2am in the morning.

At the end it wasn’t the beautiful places that I saw that made vanlife special. Visiting places like Yellowstone National Park, Zion, and Moab was great, but what truly makes vanlife special is the actual experience of living in a van, slowing down to enjoy the simple pleasures in life and really being able to live in the moment. Meeting new people, especially the elderly, and hearing about the adventures of their youth was one of the things I really enjoyed from my van travels. Taking time to prepare a hot meal while watching the sunset is one of life’s simple joys. Traveling in the van and living the vanlife isn’t really about the destination. Vanlife truly is a unique way to slow things down and live life in the moment.

Raw Cat Food Recipe

Raw Cat Food Recipe

About six months ago, I decided to start making raw cat food for my cats. Until then, I have been feeding them a combination of high quality grain free dry cat foods with canned foods. At almost $2.50 per can, it was costing me a small fortune. On top of that, my cats still had flaky skin and one of the cat, Kirby, still had chronic stomach problems. After doing lots of research, I decided to convert all the cats over to raw cat food because of the health benefits. Cat who are fed a raw diet have stronger immune systems, resistant to infections & parasites, shows no signs of allergies and have healthy guts.

What Homemade Raw Cat Food Looks Like

homemade cat food

When I was first transitioning the cats over to a raw homemade diet, I was worried about them getting sick because the food was not cooked. After digging into lots of research, I discovered cat’s have a shorter digestive system than we do, which means the food doesn’t sit in their gut as long. In other words, cats do not get food poisoning from eating raw meat. Think of it this way: When did a tiger say, “I can’t eat this raw gazelle, I need it cooked.” Never. Feral cats eat mice, birds, and rabbits raw because that is what they are suppose to eat, not commercial dry cat food or cooked food. Cats are not humans and their body is very different than ours.

One of the study I found most impactful was by Dr. Pottenger from 1932 to 1942. Dr. Pottenger was conducting research on adrenal hormones in respiratory issues and used cats for lab testing. While conducting this research, she discovered cats who were fed a raw cats fed a raw diet were healthier and survived surgery more often cats who were fed a high quality cooked diet. Over the span of 10 years, Dr. Pottenger evaluated nutrition for over 900 hundred cat over the span of 10 years and the conclusion was all the same: Raw foods is better for cats than cooked foods.

One of the books I found to be very helpful in helping me understand more about cats and what to feed them is called “Raising Cats Naturally” by Michele T. Bernard. She does an excellent job explaining the nutritional needs of cats and has great raw recipes. I highly recommend picking up a copy. My raw cat food recipe is adapted from her book.

Trying to get four cats with very distinct preferences was a challenge. One of my cats, Chew chu, a 13 year old tuxedo female, refused to ever eat wet food. The look she gives me says, “Why are you feeding me this garbage?” The other 2 cats ate wet food but were all very picky about which flavor they would eat. I only had one cat, Hashbrown, who was 1 year old at the time and would eat just about anything. I knew I had a challenge on my hands.

But with a little time & patience, all of my cats transitioned into raw cat food. When I am in a hurry and don’t have time to “cook” then I would either give them some raw cut up chicken or use Stella & Chewy’s Raw Dehydrated Cat Food. Pick it up at your local healthy pet store and not on Amazon. I feel like Amazon’s quality is not as good as the ones at the store.

Equipment for making raw cat food

If you are making this at home, getting a good meat grinder is a good investment. After evaluating many meat grinders, I settle on the Cabela’s 3/4 hp meat grinder for $399, which was the 2nd most expensive purchase after my Vitamix. The Cabela 3/4 hp meat grinder had great reviews and was heavy duty enough to grind chicken bones to make raw cat food. At 50lbs, it is definitely heavy duty. I also picked up a Cusibox Digital Food Scale for $13 to weigh out the ingredients. You will also need 2 large bowls and some small glass containers with lids for put the cat food in. I recommend using a soup ladle or a very large spoon to transfer the mix into the glass containers.

If you want to make raw cat food without a meat grinder, I recommend using the Ninja because it has the largest blades compared to other blenders. Get the Ninja like the one in the link. Do not use the smaller Ninja Fit. You need the bigger blades. I have only tested with the Ninja in the link and it works very well.

If you want to make raw cat food in the Ninja, you HAVE to use Cornish Hens. Do not use chicken thigh or wings because blenders are not powerful enough to handle the load. If you want to use chicken, make sure to get a good meat grinder instead.

Raw Cat Food – Cornish Hen Recipe

  • 2 1/2 lbs of Cornish hen with bone
  • 1/2 lb (200 g) of raw chicken heart
  • 1/4 lbs (100 g) of raw chicken liver
  • 2 high quality raw egg yolk
  • 1 cup (or more) filtered water
  • 2000 mg salmon oil ( I use Nortic Natural Omega 3 Pets, which comes in original flavor. Do not use flavored salmon oil)
  • 1/2 teaspoon of kelp
  • 1/2 teaspoon of dulse (look for it at your local health food store. If you can’t find it, then just omit it)
  • 50 mg vitamin B complex (Use the powder ones. If you can’t find them, look for capsules you can pull apart. Unflavored only.)
  • 400 IU vitamin E (Look for powdered capsules you can pull apart)

Defrost the Cornish Hens (they usually come frozen). Using a pair of heavy duty kitchen scissors or knife, cut the Cornish hens into 2 -3 inch sections. This makes it easier for the blender to handle.

Putting everything in to a mixing bowl (except for the supplements).

Fill the Ninja only 1/5 of the way. Do not fill it more than this, otherwise you will break your blender. Blend for a 3 – 5 seconds. Put the blended cat food in to another large bowl. Repeat and add in the powder supplements into one of the mixes. Take the powder out of the capsules before blending.

Once you are done, take a spatula & mix the mixture well together by hand to make sure the supplements are distributed in the entire bowl.

Take a large ladle and spoon the raw cat foods into small glass containers and freeze. Make sure to use containers small enough for a 1 to 2 day serving. This keeps the cat food fresh.

Put the cat food in the freezer and leave it in the refrigerator the day before use to defrost.

Raw Cat Food – Chicken Formula using a Meat Grinder

  • 2 1/2 lbs of chicken with bone
  • 1/2 lb (200 g) of raw chicken heart
  • 1/4 lbs (100 g) of raw chicken liver
  • 2 high quality raw egg yolk
  • 1 cup (or more) filtered water
  • 2000 mg salmon oil ( I use Nortic Natural Omega 3 Pets, which comes in original flavor. Do not use flavored salmon oil)
  • 1/2 teaspoon of kelp
  • 1/2 teaspoon of dulse (look for it at your local health food store. If you can’t find it, then just omit it)
  • 50 mg vitamin B complex (Use the powder ones. If you can’t find them, look for capsules you can pull apart. Unflavored only.)
  • 400 IU vitamin E (Look for powdered capsules you can pull apart)
  • 2 Glandular Capsules

Cut the chicken in to small enough pieces to feed through the meat grinder. Sprinkle the supplements and mix in by hand, making sure to spread it out evenly. Mix well to make sure the supplements are evenly distributed in the cat food.

Changes in the litter box

One thing you will notice is a difference in the litter box. Instead of having alot of poop, you will notice a decrease in the amount of solid waste your cat produces. You will also notice that the poop will look like Tootie rolls, which is what healthy kitty waste looks like. You will also notice more urine out put, which is normal.

What I saw in my cats once I fed them raw cat food

Raw homemade cat food has given my elderly cats a spunky kitten energy level. My elderly 11 year old cat Kirby, who was diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome, and had never had anything but runny stool now has healthy stools as well. If I can make raw homemade cat food in a travel van on the road, I am confident you can make it in your kitchen. =)

*Pottenger, Francis., Pottenger’s Cats: A Study in Nutrition, 2nd ed., Price-Pottenger Nutrition Foundation, Inc.: La Mesa, CA 1995, p.1

Day Trip to Galveston Island

Day Trip to Galveston Island

Living in Texas has many benefits:  Lots of sun light, great economy and being close to the water. One of my favorite quick get aways when visiting family in Houston is to take a day trip to Galveston Island, about 45 minutes drive from Houston.  As you approach Galveston Island, a warm salty breeze greets you, and you know you have arrived. During the week day, the long boardwalk is quiet and there is a sense of serenity. Time slows down and relaxation sets in as you take in the sights of the island: The gentle waves washing into the sand, the sea gulls gliding majestically through the air, and little sand pipers running across the beach.

I am always grateful for quiet moments of solitude to reflect on the joy and abundance I have in my life.  So often we are caught up in this fast paced world, but being at the Galveston Island on the beach, I am reminded of the simple pleasures of life: Basking in sunlight, listening to the waves, watching a child play in the water, and seeing the joy in my dogs eyes as they wrestle in the sand. Being in Galveston has a magical transformational effect, if you take a moment and allow yourself to let go and just enjoy the laid back pace of life.

 

The day trip to Galveston Island reminds me of a time in my lives when I slowed down and appreciated the simple things in life. When you think about it, when was the last real conversation you had with your neighbors? With your family? With your friends? Being here makes me think of afternoons in my earlier years where making time for the people closest to me mattered the most and I vow to make more time for my friends and family this year

As the day comes to a close, I head to East Beach on the far end of Galveston Island and watch one of the most amazing sunsets I have ever seen. Happy and rested, I head back to the city of Houston, refresh and relaxed.

How to Travel Light

How to Travel Light

Each year, I travel about 200 plus days. If you add up the time it takes to check bags and to retrieve bags, it can easily add an hour to your day. On top of that, there is a chance the airline will lose your luggage. When you learn how to travel light, you will save time and never lose your luggage.  Once, my luggage decided to take a trip to Istanbul without me. For the last 3 years, I travel exclusively with a carry on and a backpack. This trip, I am flying to the Northeast United States, battling the rain and cold, then flying out to Colombia for another two weeks in the hot and humid climate. Even with 3 pairs of shoes, my laptop, my DSLR and camera lenses, work clothes and a mix of beach and casual wear with a winter coat, I am still traveling carry on only. How do I do it? Easy. It just requires a bit of creative planning.

How to Travel Light Tips & Tricks:

 

1) Get the most out of your luggage – Make sure your carry on luggage doesn’t have dead space. There are really pretty bags with structured designs that look cool on the outside, but take up precious space on the inside. Look for a luggage that uses all available space. And since you will be carrying everything, the lighter the bag, the better.  I recently purchased a new Samsonite Spinner luggage weighing 8lbs and it has made a huge difference. My other Samsonite bag, which only made it a little over one year, was on the verge of falling apart. One of the wheels were no longer working and I was literally dragging the luggage. This time, I looked for heavy duty wheels. I prefer the ones with a dual wheel because they seem to glide easier. Also, I prefer hard luggage with an expandable zipper. I use to travel with a soft side luggage but found I would over stuff the bag and it wouldn’t fit into the overhead compartment. The great thing about the zippered hard luggage is once everything is zipped, it will fit perfectly every time. Stay away from the conventional hard luggage because they are really finicky and are hard to close if the alignment is even slightly off. Last, I sit on the luggage to test it’s strength. Depending on how much you weigh, this may or may not be the best idea, but I want to make sure it can handle at least over 100 lbs of weight empty, both laying on its side and standing upright.

2)  Bring versatile clothing you can re-wear – Just like jeans, make sure to pack articles of clothing to build outfits around.  A cute summer dress can transition into an elegant evening with a cardigan, heels & accessories.  Plan out your outfits ahead of time and add accessories to glam it up.

3) Bring Ziploc bags & Trash bags – Dirty clothes goes in the trash bag and ziplock bags come in handy to pack snacks as well as to contain liquids from spilling. I like to double bag liquids, just in case.  Bring extra trash bags in case it rains and you need to make a make shift poncho for your electronics.

4)  Hand wash your clothes –  Bar soap.  Water.   A little elbow grease.  Done

5)  Roll your clothes up –  Don’t just dump clothes into the luggage or fold them. This takes up more space, plus your clothes get wrinkled in the process. If you are bringing shoes, tuck things like socks or underwear into the space to use all available space.

6) Downsize on your liquids. If you have to have your favorite conditioner, bring it, but you can do without the shampoo. My favorite facial cleaner and body soap is VaniCream Cleaning Bar, which you can get at a drugstore for about $6.  It’s extremely gentle on your skin, and doesn’t count take up space in my liquids bag. One of my favorite finds is a chewable tablet solid toothpaste by Lush. It is so easy to travel with and they have a variety of flavors. A good night cream is essential as well as an eye cream, since being on an airplane dehydrates your skin. And of course, travel size sunscreen makes the list. You can always get travel containers and refill as needed. The same goes for hair products as well.

7) If you don’t have to sit on the bag to close it, you have more space. The trick is to pack your bag using all available space, so the denser the better. If you are going on vacation and you want to bring back souvenirs , pack a different bag for the return portion. Most major airlines allow 2 free checked bags for international flights. You can always check a bag on the way back.

8) Get a backpack or a big tote. Don’t bring the purse unless it is HUGE. I travel with my Macbook Pro laptop, Kindle, DSLR, battery packs and food.  I have a huge Kenneth Cole Reaction Backpack which allows me to pack about 35-40lbs of stuff. I pack my purse in my luggage because I have more usable space in the backpack. This makes a huge difference in what I can bring with me on my trips.

Traveling light is easy when you plan ahead.   The important part is making sure everything you pack will be used at least a few times.  If not, it doesn’t make the trip.  Once you start traveling with only a carry on, you will realize how easy it is and how much time you save by not waiting for you bags.  It also allows you to be more mobile.  Happy Travels!

Smokie Mountain Day Trip

Smokie Mountain Day Trip

Towering trees framed with glistening streams and waterfalls are just some things you can look forward to when going to Smoky Mountain National Park. Nestled between Tennessee and North Carolina, the Smokie Mountains National Park is the most visited national park in the country, with over 9 million people vising annually.  With only one day to explore, I rented a truck after landing in Chattanooga, Tennessee and drove to the park. Worried about the notorious traffic as families are vacationing for Spring Break, I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was an easy 2.45 hour drive. Instead of going through the main tourist town of Gatlinburg, I went through the less know entrance through the charming quaint town of Townsend to see the Cades Cove, an early European settlement dating back to the 1800’s.

Make sure to see John Oliver Place, one of the first settlers to call Cades Cove home in 1820’s. As I sat on the porch steps, it’s hard to believe the wealth of history present at this beautiful rural land.

If you are looking to get some hiking in, stop for a hike to Abrams Falls, about midway through the Cades Cove driving path. You are rewarded with a 20 foot waterfall after a relatively easy 5 mile round-trip hike. The entire hike should take 3 hours or less to complete, stretching your legs and enjoying nature.  If you are looking to see Clingmans Dome, the highest peak in the park, it is completely doable if you start you day early. Since I arrived at the park at 3:30pm, I opted out and enjoyed some short hikes instead.

Ideally, I recommend spending at least 3 to 4 days do you can enjoy nature and camp at this beautiful park. After going to Yosemite during the summer time, I recommend coming here during off season, even if it is cooler. You would be able to enjoy nature without having to sit in rush hour like traffic with hoards of people every where you look.