Don’t bring large amounts of cash on your California Vacation

 

This is one of the most important aspects of planning a trip that I never hear anyone mention: You should NEVER bring large amounts of cash on a road trip in the US. 


Federal Agents can seize your cash without a warrant even if you haven't committed a crime.

It's called a civil forfeiture. US Border patrol, US Customs, state or local police, the DEA, and the FBI can take your cash at any time. It's up to you to go to court and prove that the money is yours and that you obtained it legally. It's a difficult process. And it's time sensitive. In many cases, you have less than a month to prove it. If you don't follow procedure, the government takes the cash and you never get it back. 



Don't Use a Debit Card unless you are at a Bank

Never use a debit card unless you are at a bank.  It can take month to obtain a refund when someone uses your card without your permission. I can't tell you how countless many times Ive heard of cashiers, clerks and waiters stealing debit card numbers. A debit card is very different from credit.  Debit fraud requires a significant amount of proof. The burden is on you. Many debit disputes are unsuccessful. The money is gone. The only safe place to use your debit card is a bank.

Nearly Every Single Business in the US accepts Credit

It's nearly impossible to find a business in the US who won't accept a credit card. I can't remember the last time someone said "cash only" to me. It's been at least 20 years. The only exception I can think of would be for very small purchase amounts less than $5 in a place like a gas station for gum. 


Use a Credit Card

You are far more protected in cases where someone makes an unauthorized charge on your credit card. You can often get a refund to your account within a week of reporting an unauthorized charge. 

I understand that not everyone can get a credit card, but it is quite simply the safest form of payment you can use on a vacation in the US.

You are more protected when you rent a car using your credit card in cases where you decline the coverage offered by the renter. Nearly all US credit card companies offer some form of insurance when renting a car. The insurance won't kick in unless you decline the coverage offered by the rental company. The deposit required for renting a car with credit card is typically lower as well.

Before my first trip to Europe, I read a giant article about avoiding foreign transaction fees. The rate can vary, but most credit card companies charge a foreign transaction fee ranging from 1-5 percent.  $5,000 in expenses on your trip would cost you $50 in fees at a 1 percent rate. In my opinion, the $50 in fees is absolutely worth the peace of mind. With a credit card, you  don't have to worry about losing your cash or having someone steal the information on your debit card and drain your account. Many credit card companies offer cards that waive foreign transaction fees. I used my card for 2 weeks in Europe and I got hit with less than $20 in foreign transaction fees.

 Another reason to use a credit card is to avoid taking cash out the ATM all the time. Those fees can add up. When you make a withdraw from an ATM, you often get hit with multiple hidden fees. At a place like a Las Vegas casino, you might pay as much as $20 for a single ATM withdraw.

Another reason I like using a credit card on my vacation is the promotions. Most companies offer points back for every dollar you spend. My current card had a promotion that offered $200 in credits if you spent $500 in the first 3 months.

Downside of a Credit Card.......

YOU HAVE TO PAY IT OFF WHEN YOU GET BACK. Don't spend more than you can pay off quickly.  Credit card companies offer the promotions so you rack up a bunch of debt and then kill yourself trying to pay it back. If you put $2,000 on a credit card with a 20 percent interest rate and make the minimum payment of $50 a month, you'll be paying off that debt for 6 years and spend an additional $1200 in fees.



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Ring Mountain Preserve in Marin County California

 

Ring Mountain Preserve: Marin County California

Ring Mountain is a rad little hike in Corte Madera California which is located about 9 miles north of the Golden Gate bridge as you head away from San Francisco. There are plenty of great hikes in Marin County, but this is one of the best vantage points to get a view of San Francisco and the bay. This hike has more of a “neighborhood” hike type of vibe with very few tourists. There are a couple of interesting rock formations along the loop where you may spot some local rock climbers practicing their bouldering skills. 

 

View of San Francisco Bay from Ring Mountain

The Ring Mountain Preserve has 4 different trails with access points to the loop at the top, but parking is complicated. There are a few spots at the different trailheads, emphasis on “few”.  Neighborhoods in this area have a lot of restrictions for parking.  I recommend parking at Blackie’s Pasture and crossing Tiburon Blvd to access the preserve by walking up until the end of Reed Ranch Road.  There is room for about 5-6 cars at the top of Reed Ranch road, but these spots are often taken.

If you start as Blackie’s Pasture, follow Reed Ranch Road to the trailhead and do the loop at the top, the total distance of the trail would be about 5 miles roundtrip with 500 feet of elevation gain. This is a fairly easy hike, but I don’t really recommend it for families with small children under 8 years old because the initial hill through the neighborhood is a little steep and you’ll have to cross a busy intersection on Tiburon Blvd. There are also mountain bikers to contend with. This is definitely not a hike to push a stroller on. 

Ring Mountain Preserve Trail in Corte Madera

 

Be aware that Blackie’s Pasture may have parking restrictions in place due to Covid.

The Ring Mountain Preserve is dog friendly, but leashes are required.  The trail is fairly heavily trafficked by local hikers, pet owners, mountain bikers. It’s best to hike this one on a clear, sunny day. From the top, you get panoramic views of San Francisco Bay, Mount Tamalpais, San Francisco and Marin County. Bring plenty of water because the trail is exposed to the sun.

 

Trail stats

Distance 5 miles roundtrip from Blackie’s Pasture if you do the loop at the top

Elevation Gain: 500 Feet

Dog Friendly: Yes

Bike Friendly: Yes

Best months:  Year-round on a clear day

Not Suitable for very young children who can’t hike 5 miles with a steep hill

 

Location of Trailhead on Google Maps:

https://goo.gl/maps/Skc6vCW9wyMkYxMf6

 

 

Ring Mountain Loop in Tiburon

Also in the area:

While you’re in the Tiburon area, I highly recommend taking the Tiburon Ferry across to Angel Island for a bike ride. There is a bike rental location in Tiburon before you cross over to Angel Island, but it’s not cheap at $64/day not including the cost of the Ferry, so bring your own bike if you can.

If you’re looking for a good place to eat, I’d recommend skipping the lousy touristy restaurants in the area and grabbing a picnic lunch to go at The Woodland’s Market in Tiburon. They have fresh food made daily by a team of chefs. The roasted chicken is the best meal I ate anywhere on Marin County. The market also has an excellent selection of beer and baked goods. Grab a Pliney the Elder and the best box of chocolate chip cookies you will ever eat in your life.

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Arizona Hot Springs: Las Vegas Nevada

Arizona Hot Springs Hike near Las Vegas
Arizona Hot Springs is a moderate to strenuous 5 mile roundtrip hike located near the Hoover Dam. The trailhead is only about a 45 minute drive from the Las Vegas Strip. The Arizona Hot Springs hike is one of the best hikes in the Las Vegas area and has a great slot canyon, several hot springs which are great for soaking, a small waterfall, a 20 foot ladder, and ends at a beautiful section of the Colorado river. You can turn the Arizona Hot Springs hike into a loop by circling back on the White Oak Canyon trail. I have provided a map below for reference. Regardless of which direction you take, both trails end up at the Colorado River. 

Arizona Hot Springs Trail

There are some safety precautions you want to consider on this hike, so you’ll want to read on. I don’t want to dissuade you from doing this hike, but you want to be careful.

Warnings:

Do not attempt this hike is the temperature outside is 90 degrees or hotter

Bring a gallon of water person.

Don’t attempt this hike if it’s raining due to flash flood risks in the slot canyon

Don’t submerge your head in the hot springs

Don’t enter the hot springs if you have any open cuts

Don’t attempt to carry your pet down the 20-foot ladder

Bring suntan lotion

Arizona Hot Springs Map

This hike can get absolutely scorching in the summer and all the way through September. I would not even attempt it unless the temperature was below 80. This hike is often 10-20 degrees hotter than the temperature on the strip. The first section of the hike follows a dry river wash is completely exposed to the sun, so you’ll want to wear sunscreen, sunglasses and a hat. As with any slot canyon, you’ll want to avoid this hike in the very rare occasion that it rains.

The Hot Springs are amazing. There are several pools which are separated by sand bags. The first pool is so hot that most people can’t even sit in them. I would limit my soaking time to 15 minutes in the first pool. The hot springs can be breeding ground for bacteria and amoebas. Don’t get in the water if you have any open cuts and you should never submerge your head or nose under the water.

Dogs are allowed on the Arizona Hot Springs Hike, but the 20 foot ladder is impassable unless you choose to carry your dog and climb down at the same time. I strongly recommend not attempting this because the climb is difficult even without a pet because the ladder is narrow, wet and completely vertical. There have been numerous accidents in the past with pets.

 

A Big Horn Sheep on the Arizona Hot Springs Trail

 Trailhead Location for Google Maps:

https://goo.gl/maps/6PR1mHdLNXtS3kGF8

 

Arizona Hot Springs Hike Stats

Total Distance: 5 miles round-trip

Dogs: Leashed Dogs Are Allowed

Elevation Gain: About 800 feet

Best Months: October through May.

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