10 Summer Outdoor Entertaining Ideas

It’s summer and you want to get the whole gang together for an outdoor BBQ. Make it special – but keep it easy. Here are 10 ideas to help you reach that goal!

  • Put it on Wheels. Use utility carts, serving cards or even a garden cart (cleaned and lined with a pretty cloth, of course) for different “courses”. You can have a snack cart with munchies or a dessert cart. The beauty of putting it on wheels is that you can easily move it out when you’re ready – or in if there’s a sudden summer shower.


  • Battery Operated Candles. If you love the flickering, romantic light of a candle but don’t want to mess with dripping wax or the danger of a little one getting to close to the flame, you with battery operated candles. They come in every size from pillars to tea lights. Use them in centerpieces for a special glow.


  • Citronella. You’re going to need a few real candles – of the citronella sort. If you live in a bug-prone area (and that’s about everywhere in the summertime), you might want to consider spraying with an outdoor bug spray before the event and then adding citronella in candles, torches or oil lamps to keep those pests away.


  • Festive Ice Cubes. Raspberries, strawberries, a small triangle of lemon… freeze them in your ice cubes! They’re pretty – they’re fun – they’re good eat. Don’t just rely on your ice maker; get some trays and make keeping drinks cool a statement.


  • Signature Drinks. This will be easy on your budget and add to the “flavor” of your party. Instead of providing a variety of liquors and mixes. Fix one or two signature drinks – and rename them after your family or the event. Think about cool citrus flavors like a classic daiquiri and experiment to add your own twist. Add some wine and beer into the mix if you desire.


  • Make a Kiddie Pool. Buy an inexpensive kiddie pool and fill it with ice and children’s beverages. Give them a trip to your childhood by buying old fashioned soft drinks – usually available in warehouse stores, specialty shops or online. The pool makes it easy for the short people in our lives – our children – to see and select their favorite.


  • Solar Lights. It’s almost as much fun as watching the fireflies come out. String solar lanterns or use solar stakes that will come to life as the sky darkens. After the party, they’ll add a festive touch to your backyard.


  • A Fire Pit. If it’s going to get chilly or if you’re going with some classic S’mores, you’re going to need fire – plus the chocolate, graham crackers and marshmallows.


  • Water, Water. For the kids (and maybe the adults) if you’re starting when it’s warm enough so no one will get chilled break out the water balloons and maybe even a slip ‘n slide. Don’t forget some classic lawn games like croquet or corn hole.


  • Inside Comfort. Face it – you’ll have a few guests who really aren’t the outdoor type. Make sure you create an indoors space for them or for anyone who wants to take a break. If you haven’t had your yearly air conditioning service by an air conditioning contractor – do it before you entertain. You don’t want to sweat getting ready and you want your guest to be comfortable if they choose to come indoors.

National Park Freebies – Ten Tips to Trim Your Travel Budget

Although there’s no such thing as a free lunch, it doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg to visit one of over 400 national parks and recreation areas across America. From free admission and tours, to special programs and even transportation, there’s no shortage of freebies to be had in these beautiful public lands. And although many of these cost-saving deals are well advertised, some are held as closely guarded secrets. With that in mind, here are ten tips to help trim your travel budget on your next national park visit.

  • US Citizens with a permanent disability can get a free Access Pass, which is good for free admission to all national parks, recreation sites, national monuments and wildlife refuges. Passes can be obtained at entrance kiosks, with proof of citizenship and disability. The pass also offers a 50% discount on campsites and boat launch fees.
  • Active members of the military can also get a free annual pass by presenting their Common Access Card or Military ID (Form 1173). This pass is available to members of all branches of the military — including reservists and National Guard members — and it has the same benefits as the Access Pass.
  • Many parks have free cell phone tours. For example, In Olympic National Park, visitors can call (360) 406-5056 to get recorded information on different areas of the park. Consult the park newspaper to see if a cell phone tour is available.
  • If you’re traveling with someone who can’t walk very far, check with the park visitor center, as many times they have manual wheelchairs for loan.
  • Some parks offer free tours on a first-come basis. Over in Zion visitors can take a free 90-minute ranger-led bus tour of Zion Canyon. Seats are limited and can only be reserved in person at the visitor center, up to three days in advance. It’s always a good idea to inquire at the visitor center whenever you visit a park, as that’s how you’ll discover freebies like this.
  • While we are on the subject, rangers are an excellent source of free information, so don’t hesitate to ask them for specific suggestions. On one visit to Yosemite, a ranger clued me in that Washburn Point was an excellent stop for wheelchair-users. This information wasn’t in the park newspaper, but the ranger knew because her brother was disabled.
  • Take advantage of the free shuttle buses in many parks, as they will save you time and frustration. For example, in Bryce National Park parking is limited along the main park road, but folks that take the optional shuttle bus dodge the parking hassle and have more time to enjoy the park.
  • If you have kids in tow ask about the junior ranger program at the main park visitor center. To become a junior ranger a child has to complete activities in the free junior ranger activity book, then have them checked by a ranger. If all goes well, they are sworn in as a junior ranger. It’s a fun way to encourage kids to learn about the natural environment while they explore a park.
  • If you have a fourth grader in the family you’ll be able to save even more money this year, thanks to the Every Kid in a Park Initiative. To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service all fourth graders will receive a season pass for their family, good for admission to all parks in the 2015-2016 school year.
  • Last but not least, everybody gets free admission on national park free entrance days. These include the National Park Service Birthday (August 25), National Public Lands Day (September 26) and the first weekend of National Parks Week (mid-April). There’s also no admission charge on Veterans Day, Martin Luther King Jr Day, and Presidents Day weekend.

5 Best Scottish Attractions

Scotland is known as one of the most beautiful and interesting countries in the world. With so many wonderful sites and wild things to do and experience, it can be difficult for travelers with limited time to choose the very best sites and activities to most enjoy the wonderful country of Scotland. To help you with this dilemma, we have compiled the top five attractions that can be found in Scotland. Consider this to be your must do list in the country. These five sites don’t completely represent the entirety of what Scotland is about; they provide an exciting and varied picture of what Scotland has to offer and serve as a proper checklist for the hurried tourist.

The Edinburgh Castle is one of the best known sites throughout the European continent. Constructed right on top of a volcano, the castle looks as if it is growing straight out of a massive rock. With its exquisite great hall and gorgeous built-in church, it is often difficult to get visitors to leave. Additionally, visitors will leave the site with a much clearer understanding of Scottish history as the site is home to exhibitions that inform visitors on the history of the castle and the politics of its time.

Our second must-visit attraction is Cairngorms National Park. Not only is it the largest park in Britain, it boasts a massive amount of activities to participate in. Besides the thrilling favorites that are offered within the park, guests can engage in slightly calmer events by observing wildlife and taking a train ride through the stunning grounds.

Made famous by the great legend of the daring Loch Ness Monster, Lake Loch Ness sees loads of visitors each year looking for their own sighting of the mythical creature that is rumored to dwell in the Lake. With plenty of activities geared toward families and kids, Loch Ness truly offers a bit of something for everyone, including monster watching tours and circuitous pathways weaving around the water.

The Isle of Skye has long been a favorite spot for photographers and videographers due to its vibrant colors and unrivaled landscapes. One of the most popular ways to enjoy the exotic scenery is by bike.

Finally, every visitor should most certainly take a trip to see Stirling Castle. Surrounded on three sides by sheer cliff, Stirling Castle makes for quite the dramatic landscape. Additionally, however, Stirling Castle also has a beautifully preserved interior and a great many interesting bits and pieces here and there.

Although taking on the country can be daunting, particularly for the short-term traveler, taking the suggestions on this list will ensure an interesting and well-rounded experience of the country. Furthermore, visitors should note that one of the most comprehensive ways to see the city is by joining a Scotland Tours group more specifically, Whisky Tours Scotland or Castle Tours Scotland that provide a great view of the country from unique perspectives.

Basic Outdoor Gear for Hikers and Campers

Camping trips, hiking out, walking tours, backpacking and other outdoor activities require usage of specific equipment and tools. There are many types of equipment available to lovers of nature who prefer to spend time communing with the outdoors. The selection of equipment is based on a number of factors, including the kind of environment, the distance and duration of travel, and the planned activities. Another important factor that influences the choice of equipment is the current set of local regulations that govern the site, all of which are intended to minimize the human impact on the environment. The following are guidelines to assist hikers, campers, and trekkers in planning for their next outdoor sojourn, specifically in choosing basic equipment.

Basic equipment options for temporary shelter and effective protection from the elements

A high performance four-season tent may provide the best kind of protection from the elements. This kind of tent offers users an effective shelter while they are out of doors, and when coupled with a complete sleep-system, the shelter can offer an environment that is warm, cozy, and comfortable. Many types of tents are available in the market. The choice depends on the nature of the environment, the climate, and the duration of stay.

Aside from tents, hikers who intend to stay out overnight can opt for a tarp and wool blanket, if the nighttime temperature does not fall to such a level that risks hypothermia. A sleeping bag may do the trick, or in more challenging environments, a basic sleeping bag may be modified to provide better protection to the user with the addition of bag liners, compression sacks, and ground sheet. Meanwhile, some campers and trekkers prefer to sleep on hammocks. Others bring with them a bivouac shelter or a jungle shelter that is specifically designed for use in tropical rainforest environments.

Tips on carrying, storing, and sourcing potable water

Since water found in the wild is possibly undrinkable, one of the most important aspects of preparing for an outdoor trekking or camping is ensuring that the party carries an adequate amount of water that is potable and safe to drink. In the outdoors, an average adult usually consume two to four liters per day. Each liter of water weighs approximately one kilogram. The amount of water to be brought must be determined in relation to the carrying capacity of the people who will be drinking the available supply. Clean water containers must be procured and examined before water is stored in order to ensure that the supply will not be contaminated. Aside from planning for and preparing the right amount water for the duration of the trip, it is useful to have a working knowledge of the geographical layout of the area, particularly on the locations of possible sources of drinking water. This is especially important if the trek or hike is set in arid areas. Knowing the location of natural water cisterns and reservoirs, as well as the quickest route to sources of drinking water could spell the difference between life and death in survival situations.

Top 3 Bird Watching Holidays in Australia

Bird watching holidays in Australia take birders to a vast country of varied habitats, home to stunning endemics and breeding visitors. From the south-west hills of Western Australia to the tropical forests of Queensland and the sub-Antarctic islands in the Southern Ocean, Australia is sure to satisfy amateur and experienced birders alike.

Western Australia

The vast state of Western Australia is home to a broad range of bird species. Visiting the state’s south-west corner provides ample sightings for highly rewarding bird watching holidays. Starting in the hills of the Darling Range, birders can search for local endemics such as Red-winged Fairywren, Red-eared Firetail, Western Rosella and Red-capped Parrot. In the Wandoo bushlands of Dryandra State Forest, the birds are plentiful, including Brush Bronzewing, Painted Button-quail, Purple-crowned Lorikeet, Collared Sparrowhawk and Rufous Treecreeper. Heading south, the Stirling Ranges are home to Australian Owlet-nightjar, Western Yellow Robin, Crested Shrike-tit and more, while the nearby Cheyne Beach is known for its ‘big three’ of Western Whipbird, Western Bristlebird and Noisy Scrub-bird. In addition to all this, the Karri Eucalyptus forests are home to fairywrens, whistlers and wattlebirds, and the route back to Perth can take in Sugarloaf Rock and its Red-tailed Tropicbirds.


The tropical landscape of Queensland is a rich and intensely rewarding destination for bird watching holidays. Starting in Cairns, birders can explore the mangroves of the bay in search of waterbirds, then boat out to Michaelmas Cay on the famous Great Barrier Reef, where numerous sea birds breed and rest, including Sooty Terns, Bridled Terns, Crested Terns, Brown Boobies, Common Noddy and more. Inland, the Atherton Tablelands and the crater lakes of Eacham and Barrine are home to endemic bird species and some of Australia’s more elusive mammals. Under the guidance of an expert naturalist, birders can hope to see the Wompoo Pigeon, Emerald Doves, Rainbow and Scaly-breasted Lorikeets, Black Butcherbird, Victoria’s Riflebird, Spotted Catbird and Lovely Fairy Wren. Daintree Rainforest and Lamington National Park round off the trip, searching for the Papuan Frogmouth, Little Kingfisher, Great-billed Heron and Southern Cassowary.

Sub-Antarctic Islands

The sub-Antarctic islands of Australia and New Zealand are a different world entirely. The Southern Ocean’s nutrient-rich waters fuel a lively ecosystem that sustains millions of albatrosses, penguins, petrels, cormorants and other stunning sea birds, as well as Sperm Whale, Orca Whale, Dusky Dolphins and Hourglass Dolphins. Cruising among the islands is an incredible experience for those on bird watching holidays.

Snares Island is an excellent first stop: the endemic Snares Island Penguin nests here, alongside Southern Giant Petrel, Antarctic Tern, Snares Fernbird, Broad-billed Prion and Salvin’s Albatross. At the Auckland Islands, Auckland Island Shag and Yellow-eyed Penguin will delight. Australia’s Macquarie Island gives birders the opportunity to see the Royal Penguin’s only nesting site, as well as nesting pairs of King Penguins, Gentoo Penguins and Rockhopper Penguins and other birds including the Macquarie Shag. On archipelago after archipelago, the birds of the Southern Ocean are a delight.

Marissa Ellis-Snow is a freelance nature writer. If you’re looking for bird watching holidays, Naturetrek specialises in expert-led natural history and wildlife tours worldwide. Naturetrek brings over 25 years of experience to Jaguar watching tours in some of the most spectacular regions on Earth.

National Parks: Bryce Canyon

Name a famous natural landmark from Utah? While the Great Salt Lake in Salt Lake City is a sight to behold, it is by no means the only one in that state. There’s a national park in Utah named Bryce Canyon that is certainly more breathtaking than the lake.

When you think of a canyon, you might picture something like the Grand Canyon. Bryce Canyon is absolutely different. The erosion that left its mark caused the formation of their hoodoos, which are tall spire rocks that reach upwards towards the sky.

There is plenty to do when visiting this natural wonder. Hiking and camping always seem to be the first choices. The National Park Service (NPS) offers full moon hikes. These hikes take place each month so that visitors who are interested can see the beauty the hoodoos and canyon when bathed in only the light of the moon. The NPS can cancel these tours so it’s recommended that you ask when you arrive at the Visitor Center. If you are like me and love sleep, go on a more conventional hike during the day. There are easy, moderate, and strenuous hikes so choose one that fits your level correctly.

Camping can be done in either of their two campgrounds: North and Sunset. Both of these campground offer RV sites and tent sites. While many of the sites are given on a first-come, first-served basis, both the North and Sunset campgrounds have sites that would need to be reserved.

There are several Ranger Programs offered by the NPS at Bryce Canyon. For about an hour and a half, you can walk with a park ranger who will act as your guide around the Rim. This is not available during the winter season so plan to visit in any of the other three seasons.

If you are coming with children be aware that there is a program just for them! These are only held during the summer and last about an hour. Unlike many of their other activities and tours, this does require a reservation that you must make when you get to the Visitor Center. This is not like the kids programs on cruises in that children do have to be accompanied by adults.

Leave Bryce Canyon for a love of national parks and nature in general. Bryce Canyon can be famous for its hoodoos, but it will be memorable for your family because of the time spent together discovering the natural world’s beauty!