Girls’ Night in 2020

From Black Lives Matter to COVID pandemic to hurricanes and heatwaves, 2020 has us rethinking everything – birthday parties, office culture, grocery shopping, book clubs  – and the latest change up is Girls’ Night. September 22 is National Girls’ Night (who knew?), so here’s our take on girls’ night – 2020 style.

Virtual Book Club

Diversity of thought is part of what makes humans (and women!) such a unique species. And when it comes to books, there’s no shortage of different perspectivse. So bring together your book worms and pick books that purposefully offer a different perspective.  Read books by women from other countries, or books by women with different upbringings and backgrounds. If books are too much of a commitment, round-table a recent article that you all read. You’ll be surprised – even in conversation with your closest friends – just how much you didn’t know.

Socially Distant Happy Hours

If you’re in town – BYOB, bundle up, and get back to the days of picnicking. Parks, beaches, backyards, bonfires, campsites… there’s no limit (other than the general 6 foot distance).

Recipe Exchange

Part of what makes us unique are the traditions we get passed down from generation to generation, so share that with your friends. Host a Zoom cooking night each month where someone else is a “host” – they’ll walk everyone through a recipe that takes 30 mins or less to prepare. Everyone is in their own kitchen, with their own ingredients following along. Now’s your chance to let your inner Samin Nosrat shine! (Bonus: when you’re at home, no need for a DD).

Yes, It’s Okay to Talk Politics

Dialogue is where progress happens. If you are passionate about a cause or a candidate, gather your girlfriends and give them a rundown on why this is important to you. Let them know succinctly (in 5 mins or less) why you are passionate about a particular cause, then give them the floor to ask questions and offer counter opinions. Pro-tip when it comes to talking about politics and policy: Let people know how the issue personally affects YOU or your community. Be realistic – you can’t be passionate about everything, so don’t come out hearts a ‘blazing for every issue and every candidate. Stick to the things you are truly passionate about, 1 or 2 issues max (schedule another Girl’s night if there are more). It will be easier for others to see your perspective if you can keep it focused, keep your cool, and be open to hearing others. Dialogue, FTW!

Phone Banking & Letter Writing

Let’s say you and your friends support the same candidate or cause; you can skip the discussion and go right to grassroots campaigning. Give your girls’ night an activism twist and organize a letter writing night or an afternoon of phone banking (yes, wine is a fine accompaniment to both). It might feel awkward at first (and definitely uncommon for a girls’ night) but helping a cause will make you feel like a million bucks.  

Food or Toy Drive

With shorter days and the holidays just around the corner, it’s a perfect time to start planning a food or toy drive with your friends. Spend your next girls night talking about logistics and get a goal and a plan together for how you can pool your resources and make a positive impact on your community. Pro Tip: Have your friends reach out to their co-workers to multiply the impact!

Plan a Girl’s Trip for 2021

2020 was the year of canceled plans. So get a girls’ trip on the calendar for next year. It can be the trip of your dreams (sailing around Greece, anyone?), a 3-day backpacking trip in your local mountains, or just a staycation at your place (or whomever has a dishwasher). Either way, when it’s safe to hug and laugh and lounge and play in close proximity again, grab the chance and soak it all in.



Best Places to Travel in 2020

2020 just sounds like a year for epic trips. While we adjust back to office life, we’re slowly re-entering with a healthy dose of wanderlust and electrolytes (because you have to prep that immune system for international travel). According to the Toads, here’s what tops our list for the best places to visit in 2020. 


“I’m taking the little groms to the snow! My youngest hasn’t been yet so we’re getting her on some mini skis. It’s the best place in the world to learn to ski because when you fall at least you got a million dollar view!” – Neil, Operations 


“I took a DNA test last year and turns out I’m 91% Vietnamese, so I’m headed back to the Motherland! I’m doing an epic solo motorcycle trip through the countryside. I’ve never been to Vietnam. I’m so pumped.” – Anthony, Graphic Design 


“I’m going on my honeymoon this year and I think we settled on Turkey! I want that balance of adventure and relaxing, but we also like amazing food and coffee and culture…Turkey seemed like the perfect place. I hear Cappadocia is where the hot air balloons float over these ancient cities built around rock formations. Sounds pretty amazing.” – Tessa, Production 


“Amsterdam has some incredible art museums. The Van Gogh, the Foam, the Moco, and of course the Rijksmusuem that’s been closed for years and just re-opened after a mega remodel – I hear it’s spectacular. I just want to go to all of the museums and eat all of the snacks and go biking through the tulips!” – Helena, Women’s Design


“My buddy just came back from a surf trip in Senegal and now I’m frothin’. There are some great breaks just outside of Dakar like the legendary point break, Ngor Right (the one they surfed in Endless Summer!), and apparently down the coast is a little town called Ouakam where you’re just supposed to barrel all. day. long.” – Dr. Drew, Customer Service 


“I’ve always wanted to walk the Camino. It’s a beautiful, historic pilgrimage route that winds through the hills of France and ends at this beautiful city, Santiago de Compostela, in Northwest Spain. After you’ve made your trek (I’d start in Léon so it wasn’t too long…), you end at the Cathedral where all the pilgrims pack in for a church service (all in Latin, of course). It just sounds divine.” – Lucinda, Production 


“This summer we’re taking a road trip all throughout the Western US with the goal to hit as many National Parks as we can. Last fall we took my 5 year old, Lily, to her first national park and she loved it. She asked for a park pass for Christmas. So we’re going to put it to work! Our goal is to do a big circle – Yellowstone, Arches, Canyonlands, Mesa Verde, Saguaro, Joshua Tree, Grand Canyon, Zion, Great Basin… ok, if we make it to half it would be amazing. But Yellowstone is at the TOP of the must-see list!” – Lucas, Brand & Marketing 


“I really want to go to Japan and hit some links! People are shocked when I tell them that Japan has great golf courses, but why wouldn’t they? It’s a country known for  epic views and beautiful gardens. Makes sense to me!” – Guin, Women’s Design 


“We’re going to visit my mother-in-law in Switzerland, but then after that we’re going to check out Southern Spain (or Andalucia). It’s been on our bucket list for years. We’re thinking Sevilla, Cordoba, Granada…just give me all the tapas and Moorish architecture. I hear the Alhambra is mind blowing.” – Steve, Marketing 


“I am SO excited to go to Volcano National Park on Hawaii’s Big Island! Kīlauea and Mauna Loa are active volcanoes so you can actually watch the lava flow, AND you can go see the Thurston lava tube that’s so big you can walk through it….AHHHH NATURE IS SO COOL!” – SARAH, Culture & Giving (and our resident geologist)  


“Seeing the Northern lights is HIGH on my list of things to see with my own eyes. I hear Iceland is just the coolest and my dream is to surf off the coast of a glacier, while the Northern Lights are above, then get into the natural hot springs. Can you make that happen, Iceland?” – Natalie, Materials 


“Give me mountains and jungle and ocean and sky and I’m a happy camper. Usually I love to explore cities, but I’ve heard nothing but good things about the vibe and the people and the food…. I know I haven’t been there, but I think Costa Rica is a place you find your soul. Sounds like a good place to clock some hours.” – Daisy, Brand & Marketing 

Travel Packing Tips and Tricks

If you’ve been following along with our Save the Planet, Wear Sustainable tour, you know all about our buddy Drew (AKA Dr. Drew) – Toad Customer Service Sorcerer, and leader of our first leg of the tour. Fresh off the road, we couldn’t think of a better expert on summer packing. So our Superstar Web Merchant Lindsay sat down with Drew on our most recent episode of Toad Hacks (check out today’s Insta Story to see their chat IRL) to talk packing tips. Here are the highlights, plus some bonus tips ’cause we love ya.

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There are a couple of things Drew suggests you do before you head out to keep it simple and keep it sustainable once you Bon Voyage.

  • •Pre-trip recycling – If I buy something before a trip that comes in a wrapper or box (like a new phone charger or stick of deodorant), I make sure to recycle the packaging before I head out. Not everywhere has a streamlined recycling system, and this guarantees it makes it in the bin.
  • •Unplug before you…unplug – Before I leave for an epic adventure or a little R&R, I unplug the electronics in my house. It helps with my electricity bill and cuts down on energy usage, because did you know that electronics can steal power even when they’re turned off? Those sneaky little things…


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Check it once, check it twice. Drew never hits the road without these essentials.

  • •Headlamp – It’s second nature to remember socks and underwear, but you never know when an extra light will come in handy.
  • •Power converters – It’s so easy to forget that you might need adapters depending on where you’re traveling. I keep these close to my passport to remind me when I pack.
  • •Layer it up – When it comes to clothes, it’s all about finding the right layers to get you through any situation. Plus, choose versatile options that work as well hiking and exploring as they will going out to dinner.
  • •Shoe bags – Bring shoe bags (or better yet, recycled shopping bags) to keep clothes from mingling with dirty soles.
  • •Stay organized – I don’t go anywhere these days without these packing cubes (genius invention). They’re great for separating groups of clothes when packing, but I appreciate them most when they double as dirty clothes hampers to keep the stinky clothes from going AWOL all over my good ones. Plus, the 3 cubes weigh less than 2.2 oz total, so no stress about packing extra weight.



As a master of eco-conscious living, Drew always keeps these tips in mind.

  • •Utensils – Nothing bums me out more than a bunch of single-use plastic. At the minimum, I keep a spork on hand but when I’m feeling extra I’ll travel with my whole utensil set.
  • •Water bottle and beer mug/coffee cup – I’m a thirsty guy, but I’m not going to sacrifice the planet to wet my whistle. A reusable water bottle’s a must, and my beer mug easily doubles as a coffee cup.
  • •Pack light – Not only will your back thank you from saving it from major suitcase schlepping, but going easy on your bag weight is way better for the environment. The more weight a plane (or a train, or a car) carries, the more fuel it uses, so keep that bag lean.


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We asked Drew and Lindsay to share which Toad pieces are on their summer packing lists.

  • •Drew – I lived in the Rover Short while I was on the road. I love these shorts because they clean up well, but they’re also super durable, quick-drying, and retain their shape.
  • •Lindsay – I love the Liv Dress for travel. You can take it from a hike to dinner super easily, plus it won’t wrinkle, no matter how rumpled your packing gets. Plus, it’s quick-drying, AND has pockets, so it really has everything you need for any sort of adventure.


For more hacks from the man, the myth, the doctor, check out Drew’s tips for car camping.


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Dr. Drew’s Car Camping Hacks

When the phrase “car camping” comes to mind, you might envision the well-curated craft of surviving in the out-of-doors a la Wes Anderson. It’s a well executed blend of home sweet home meets the great outdoors into a savory alfresco. But when is comes to driving a rickety 1959 trailer across the country on our Save the Planet, Wear Sustainable Tour, the line between survival and car glamping begins to blur. But Dr. Drew, our Tour Manager and Master of Wingin’-It makes tight tour dates and long hours between the white lines look like a breeze. We caught up with Dr. Drew for his advice and insights into easy summer car camping. 

Cot or inflatable or sleeping pad? No more sleeping pads! Cots or inflatable only to help keep the ol’ back in fighting shape.

Sleeping bag VS. Blanket? What you want is a high “warm and cozy” factor and the freedom to move freely. In the summertime, I go blanket. Currently using: ​Down-filled Kammok Bobcat Trail Quilt (mostly because I like the name). For a lighter but equally cozy option, I’m all about the Cashmoore Blanket

Jerky – A tasty protein filled snack that keeps froth levels high and hunger levels low. Currently munching: Epic Provisions, high quality product and a mission-based company. 

Kitchen – Never hit the road without a way to heat up water. No matter where you are, you can fire up a hot meal and warm the soul. Currently using: Jet Boil Genesis Base Camp System. Lightweight, packable, everything you need to get gourmet if you want. 

Quinoa – Fills you up in desperate times. Good sweet or savory. 

Trail Mix – When the Jet Boil runs out of fuel and you have to go caveman style. I’m currently snacking on Shar Snacks (rhymes with “bear”), which I picked up in Austin. Organic and responsibly sourced. 

A good book – Currently reading: History of Haight Ashbury by Charles Perry.

Audio Book – The sound of another human’s voice can be quite comforting on the open road, especially when it reminds you of home. Currently listening to: Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris.

Illumination – Headlamp: Princeton Tec. String lights: Revel Gear Trail Hound 30ft. Back up: Bic Lighter and soy candle.

A good sweater – Keeps ya warm and doubles as a pillow. Currently wearing: Midfield Hemp Crewneck.

Tunes – DemerBox for indestructible tunes and a long battery life. Currently jamming to: 2 Spotify playlists, Highway Sounds (more rocky/bluesy) and I’m With Her (all the badass ladies). 

Bug Control – When you’re in Charleston in the summertime, you need all the help you can get. I’m not a fan of the chemical sprays so I like to wear clothes with Insect Shield® Technology built right into it. Currently wearing: Debug Mission Ridge Pants and Debug Peak Season Shirt – they keep the bugs out and still look presentable for date night. 

Trash – Rule #1: try not to make any. I like to make my own meals, buy in bulk with mason jars, and avoid takeout. But if you’re driving, stick a box on the passenger seat floor, a perfect receptacle for cherry stems and peach pits. 

Hydration Station – My ultimate long drive hack: strap a Camelbak to your seat and never deal with water bottle caps and spills again! 

Happy Trails. Come out and see the Save the Planet, Wear Sustainable Tour on the road. Check out national summer schedule here

The Best National Parks

Alright, full disclosure: There are a ton of National Parks that we could add. It’s hard to say that any ONE park is the BEST park. What’s not to love about Yosemite’s Half-Dome or the Grand Canyon’s… well, GRAND canyon? And the Great Smokey Mountains! One of the most mind-blowing network of trails on the planet! But try we must. So here’s our super-scientific, definitely not-subjective list of Best National Parks: 

A marmot by Hidden Lake and Reynolds Mountain in Glacier NP. (photo via Tobias Klenze)

Best For Epic Views: Glacier National Park

With more than a million acres of forests, alpine meadows, lakes, rugged peaks and glacial-carved valleys in the Northern Rocky Mountains, Glacier National Park has no shortage of jaw dropping views. Bonus: cross the border to explore the Waterton Lakes National Park of Canada. It’s all part of the same range (because borders are a human thing, not a nature thing).

The campsite Jumbo Rocks really lives up to its name.

Best For Camping Under the Stars: Joshua Tree 

Big rocks, dark skies, and some really freakin’ cute “trees.” There’s no better place to catch nature’s celestial spectacular than Joshua Tree National Park, the mystical rock field at the nexus of two great deserts. Plan your trip around a meteor shower and don’t forget to pack layers (it’s the desert!).

The Pacific Northwest rainforest ranges from Northern California to British Colombia.

Best For Getting Wet: Olympic National Park

Olympic National Park actually has four different regions – the epic Pacific coastline, the western temperate rainforest, the alpine regions and the drier eastern forests. On the west side of the park is Hoh Rain Forest, where rainfall (12-14 feet annually!) and a lush canopy of coniferous and deciduous trees create perfect rainforest conditions for mosses and ferns to flourish. 

Eye spy something pointy… (photo via Burley Packwood)

Best For Tacos: Saguaro National Park

Saguaro National Park is split into two sections that straddle Tuscon, AZ, making it an excellent park for people who love a taco pit-stop. On the East side, start at the Douglas Spring Trail and head up to Wild Horse Tank, then hit up Street Taco and Beer Co (free chips!) in downtown Tucson, then head to the West side to catch the King Canyon Trail before the sun goes down. The namesake Saguaro cacti abound.

They’re cute until they steal your lunch. (photo via National Park Service)

Best For Solitude: Channel Islands National Park

Off the coast of Central California are five remote islands where island foxes reign supreme and there’s no such thing as cell service. The only way to get to the Channel Islands is by boat, and once you’re there it’s just you and your legs. Camping is available on all five islands, with some spots a half-day’s hike in. But it’s all worth it for a true off-the-grid experience and run-ins with the locals: The Channel Island Fox, the smallest (and cutest) fox on the planet.

Zabriskie Point in Death Valley (photo via Wolfgangbeyer)

Best For Rocks: Death Valley National Park

Before joining the Toad team, our Office Manager, Sarah, was a geologist by trade, running all over the US looking at rocks. So according to our resident expert, “Death Valley National Park has some of the most insane rocks.” These sedimentary rocks make up the hottest, driest place in the USA and consist primarily of sandstone, limestone, conglomerate, hornfels, and marble. They date back to the Triassic Age and you can actually see the markings in the rocks from earthquakes that happened millions of years ago. Now that rocks! (Sorry, we couldn’t help ourselves).

Bass Harbor Head Light (photo via NPS, Kent Miller)

Best For Craft Beer: Acadia National Park

Acadia National Park is unique in that it shares Maine’s Mt. Desert Island (pronounced “dessert”) with a handful of 19th century fishing villages. Located along the Atlantic Coast, Acadia is surrounded by picturesque towns and harbors that you’ll drive through (or bike through!) as you drive the Park Loop Road. Stop in Bar Harbor to try Atlantic Brewing Company and Bar Harbor Beerworks. When you’ve gotten back to the mainland, hit up Fogtown Brewing in Ellsworth – all 3 come highly recommended from the Toads in our Freeport, ME store.

Life’s a breach in Kenai Fjords National Park.

Best For Kayaking: Kenai Fjords National Park 

Thanks to the food-rich waters in the Kenai Fjords, this national park is known for its lively residents of sea otters, humpback whales, dolphins and orcas. Get set up with a kayaking tour out of Seward, AK (we recommend a guide as the tides can be tricky) and dip your paddle into Aialik Bay or Bear Glacier Lagoon.

Wonder where the Double-O-Arch gets its name from? (photo via Flicka)

Best For Mountain Biking: Arches National Park

“The best mountain biking is in Moab, hands down. Plus, they have wild porcupines!” That review comes from Napper, our Creative Director, and with good reason: With over 2,000 natural sandstone arches, towers, and spinnakers in Arches National Park in Moab, UT has some of the best views you can see on a bike. To note: you can’t bike on hiking trails, but you can bike on paved roads (and you’ll want to – summer traffic can be brutal) and some dirt roads like Willow Flats Road and Salt Valley Road. There are also plenty of biking trails outside the park in nearby Moab.

Stalactites hang from ceilings, stalagmites rise from the ground. (photo via Daniel Mayer)

Best For Vampires: Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Described by Will Rogers as “The Grand Canyon with a roof,” New Mexico’s Carlsbad Caverns are a subterranean sensation. There are 119 known caves, with the grandest one of all, The Big Room, clocking in as the largest single chamber in North America! Wander the caves at your leisure but make sure you’re out before sunset to catch the great Bat Flight at the main entrance to the caverns. At sunset, thousands of Brazilian free tailed bats take to the skies in search of dinner. Don’t worry, you’re not on the menu… yet…

With 61 national parks in the United States, it’s hard to pick just one -– tropical islands, active volcanoes, soaring peaks, teeming wildlife refuges, apocalyptic sand dunes…. But if we had to say which National Park is the BEST, we’d say it’s the one you’re currently visiting. Every time. 

12 Best Places to Travel in 2019

If you can’t be eating $2 street curry in Malaysia, you might as well be dreaming about it. Whether you’re an overachiever and already booked your 2019 travels or you’re more of the “fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants” type, half the fun of travel is fantasizing about it. Here are 12 places to visit in 2019 dreamed up by Team Toad. Some trips are booked, some just pipe dreams, all possibilities. See ya out there?

Photo: Maarten Duineveld


“The Austrian mountain topography is very different than the US, so I’ve always been intrigued to ski there. You can cover a lot more vertical ground. I do an annual ski trip with a close group of friends and it just so happens one of them is directing a film in Ishch this winter. I’ve never been to Austria, but the Europeans have been dealing with intense mountainous snow culture for centuries, so I’m excited to see what’s what. I’ve also heard they go hard for the aprés.”

– Napper, Creative Director & Perpetual Party-Starter

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Photo: Weyne Yew


“Melbourne has amazing coffee. It’s kind of their thing. I used to live in Melbourne and there’s a reason it always ends up on those “Most Livable Cities” lists… it’s urban but has gorgeous green spaces, great beaches, old architecture, great public transit (the most extensive streetcar system in the world!), a bangin’ music and art scene, and did I mention the coffee?? It’s seriously the best.”

– Holly, Product Developer & International Coffee Connoisseur

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Photo: Char Beck


I want to see Hawaii with my own eyes! There are so many outdoor activities, but at the top of my list is backpacking across Haleakalā Crater. You start at sunrise and hike in, camp in the old ranger huts that are INSIDE the crater, then hike down the other side into Hana Forest Reserve. It’s a 2-day backpacking trip that ends with me snorkeling in Hana and eating all the fruit I can find. My kind of paradise.”

– Ashley, Production Assistant & Lifelong New Englander

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Photo: Tom Vining


This is the year I get my butt to Japan! I want to go in the spring for the cherry blossoms (obviously) and fly into Tokyo to check out the Yayoi Kusama Museum (she’s the artist who does all those crazy dot installations). Honestly, I just want to go to all of the Japanese grocery stores… I just love them. All of the hill towns of Japan are supposed to be stunning, too. Kanazawa is one of the oldest towns with temples and canals dating to the 17th century. They have a samurai district! I don’t even know what that means, but I bet it’s awesome.”

– Helena, Asst. Women’s Designer & Cookie Monster

Calabria Coast


“We’re taking my father-in-law back to the homeland for the first time in 60 years. I’ve heard a lot about Calabria so I’m excited to see it first hand. I want to explore the coast, the countryside, and generally eat my way through “the toe.” The cured meats, the seafood, the homemade pasta… that’s the best part about visiting family – you skip the touristy things, and just get to live.”

– Bradley, Sales Ops & Award-Winning Chef

Gap of Dunloe Ireland
Photo: Rory Hennessey


“I’m headed to Galway with my parents to visit our friends who live on an old battleground! Then we’ll make our way to Galway. It’s smack dab in the middle of Ireland’s western coast, so it’s a great mid-way point to explore the coastal towns and islands. I want to take a day trip to hike the Gap of Dunloe, a mountain pass that leads to a lake and you can boat back to the bottom. It drops you off at a 15th century castle! Ireland is so dreamy…”

– Kira, Men’s Designer & Queen of Crafts

Photo: Tyson Dudley


The Sawtooth Mountains are a gem. They’re reminiscent of the mountains you find in Alaska, but on this side of Canada. There’s unbelievable mountain biking, hiking, fishing, epic rafting down the Salmon River… it’s the ultimate outdoor playground. Driving the 93 to Missoula, MT takes you through 3 National Forests! We’re taking our boys and meeting a few other families. It’s a great place for kids of all ages to roam.”

– Scott, VP Global Sales & Amateur DJ

Mount Cook NZ
Photo: Joe Leahy


The geology of New Zealand is insane. It’s located on a tectonic plate boundary so the mountains jut straight into the sky, rising quickly from water’s edge to 12K feet! I read a book once about a dude who solo hiked all of NZ. He hiked through the fjords and the glaciers and eventually up Mount Cook, the highest point in New Zealand. It all sounds breathtaking.”

– Sarah, Chief of Staff & Resident Geologist

Photo: Adli Wahid


Bhutanese food is like Nepalese food but with Indian and Tibetan Chinese influences. Bhutan may be small, but it’s very innovative. They’ve done significant things in terms of the environment – I think they’re the world’s only carbon negative country, meaning they capture more carbon than they produce. Nearly 75% of the country is still forested and they measure development by Gross National Happiness. There’s a great TEDTalk by the Prime Minister about it.”

–Divas, Controller & Momo Master

Photo: Louis Hansel


“I want to surf this wave in Morocco that breaks off a shipwreck at Boilers. It’s a great right hand break, a natural footer’s dream. I want to explore the souks, maybe get a sick stained glass lantern… As for food, I want it all. I want to see what my body can handle. I want to see the Sahara desert. I don’t need to ride a camel, though. I did that once and that camel was pissed. I don’t need to do that again.”

– Drew, King of Customer Service & Thrift Store Finds

Photo: Filip Gielda


“I love that Mexican history always starts with the native peoples. If you go to the Air & Space Museum, the first thing you’ll see is how the Olmecs used the stars to navigate thousands of years ago. Mexico has such a rich culture and diverse landscape. And the food! The food is out of control. I want to go to Oaxaca because it’s the “Land of Seven Moles” – there’s one with chocolate in it! I’d love to go first weekend of November to catch the Dia De Los Muertos celebrations.”

– Daisy, Content Manager & Mole Enthusiast



“I think Chile is amazing. You get the hot and the cold, mountains and seaside… what a great place to reflect and rejuvenate for the new year ahead. I want to spend the the holidays in a lodge in Torres del Paine National Park, then hit the beaches for New Years. Cachagua is a beach town north of Santiago. Pisco sours on the beach sounds like a fantastic way to ring in the new year!” 

– Kyle, VP of Design/Merch/Supply Chain/Leisure Sports

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Visiting Kazakhstan: Soaring Mountains to Endless Steppes

Part three of a series by Andreea Lotak of Conservation Atlas. See parts one and two

Kazakhstan has not yet entered the radar of many travelers, but it’s a country that packs a lot of surprises for those who venture there. Its huge surface makes it the 9th largest country in the world, but with only 17 million residents there are vast expanses with minimal human presence, and every trip on land becomes a journey. The Kazakhs of the past used to crisscross these giant open spaces with their herds of horses, creating temporary yurt settlements and celebrating a nomadic culture rooted in storytelling and songs inspired by the unbounded steppe.

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Throughout the Soviet Union era almost 60% of the kazakh steppe was converted to agriculture, which led to the deterioration of the soil that has now turned into a semi-desert. Even like this, Kazakhstan is still home to one of the world’s largest and relatively intact temperate steppe regions, an area roughly the size of France. Through an international coalition and the efforts of a local organization, the Association for the Conservation of Biodiversity of Kazakhstan (ACBK), some 12 million acres were protected. We got to visit maybe 0.001% of that during our week-long trip on bumpy roads and unmarked tracks – a trip which remains one of our most exciting to date. And to get a better understanding of just how extraordinary this country is, we were also headed south to the border with Kyrgyzstan, where the 21 hours spent in a bus across a flat landscape ended at the foothills of some of the tallest mountains in the world: the Ile Alatau of the Tian Shan mountain system.

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Before venturing into the open steppe, we took a trip to the southern border of the country outside the old capital, Almaty. Less than an hour from the busy city lies the Big Almaty Lake in the Ile-Alatau National Park. At over 8,000 ft altitude, its stunning color and the surrounding mountains have captured the attention of adventure travelers.

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Summer at 10,000 ft can bring morning snowfalls and freezing temperatures. We continued our trip above the Big Almaty Lake after negotiating our way through a military barrier. The soldier spoke no English and we spoke no Russian, so amid smiles and drawings we think we understood that it was alright to camp and return the next morning. The national park is a militarized zone because of the nearby border, but we didn’t get the sense that it would be a problem.

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Between the mountains and the steppes we stopped to visit Kazakhstan’s “Grand Canyon”: the Charyn Canyon National Nature Park. At a much smaller scale than its US counterpart, Charyn is still a sight to behold. The park’s biodiversity includes a very rare species of ash tree: the Sogdian Ash (Fraxinus sogdiana).

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From Astana, the country’s capital since 1997, we spent almost the entire day on the road to get to the more intact steppe. The ACBK have started to organize trips to the sites where they work, including the huge Altyn Dala and Irghiz-Torgay reserves where the saiga antelope gather. This was one of the campsite areas where we pulled over for the night, together with our driver Sayat and the organization’s tourism coordinator and guide, Saltanat.

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Mountains easily capture us, but it’s said that you need a special soul to love the prairie. These vast spaces of grasslands and steppe regions around the world have been built upon and turned into agriculture or grazing lands. It’s where highways, roads and railroads have been constructed. They seem empty, but when you tune in they’re actually buzzing with life. Surprisingly, they also teem with color and wildflowers. We would move from dry areas to wetlands to meadows within minutes of driving, in a mosaic that made us fall in love with this misunderstood landscape.

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So what’s a saiga, after all? These amazing animals have been around since before the Ice Age. They look more like a character from Star Wars, but they have been surviving for thousands of years unchanged right here, on Earth. In the past they used to cover areas all the way from Alaska to Europe’s Carpathian Mountains to the steppes of Eurasia. Today, Kazakhstan still has the largest population of this critically endangered species, while smaller groups are still surviving in Russia, Mongolia, and Uzbekistan.

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The saiga gather in large numbers in May, when the calving season begins. That’s also the best time to visit the steppe with ACBK because you have the best chances of seeing these animals up close. Since we were there in the summer, the herds were already on the move and most of the times we’d only spot them from afar. In 2015 these saiga populations were in big trouble due to an epidemic that killed 90% of them. The disease is connected to a warming climate, but in these past years they have made a comeback. The ACBK is also working hard to protect the saiga from the threat of poaching.

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Due to the nature of the area’s soil, the strong sun and the hot summers, evaporation is common in the steppe and many bodies of water turn to surreal landscapes of salt lakes which, when covered by a shallow layer of water, reflect the sky.

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Even in what seemed an empty landscape we would always find life in the most surprising of ways: ground squirrels popping their heads up, an eagle gliding just above the grass, colorful dragonflies landing on flowers, a saiga running in the distance at 50 mph, or the movement of the grasses in the wind. Everywhere we turned there was reason to snap a picture.

Conservation Atlas is a 501(c)(3), US-based nonprofit started in 2017 by Andreea & Justin Lotak. Conservation Atlas aims to raise awareness of global conservation causes by appealing to intrepid travelers. Through leading online resources and annual international festivals, CA inspires people to visit unique places and support the mission of grassroots organizations. Through 2018, The Lotaks are touring 14 countries to document successful conservation projects, meet the people who are making these positive changes, and photograph beautiful landscapes and biodiversity. 

Andreea is wearing the Print Lean Capri Leggings and the Ember Tank, and Justin is wearing the Cuba Libre Long Sleeve Shirt and the Rover Shorts.



Best Ways to Save Money While Traveling

Some of the best, most creative travel experiences happen when you’re maximizing your wallet. Determine what your budget is and stick to it. From food sourcing to local activities, there’s plenty to do that feels like more bang for your buck. Trust Kelly Smith, a digital nomad and writer who made the leap to work from the raod. Here’s his list of 8 easy tricks to stretch your travel dollar.

1. Fly Flexible

Let me tell you a story: Once upon a time, I flew my family of four from Portland, OR to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Ok, technically that’s not true. I really flew us from Seattle, British Columbia (yes, the Canadian one) to Singapore. We saved $180 per ticket on that flight — more than enough to rent a one-way car trip in the States and a luxury charter bus through Malaysia, plus hotel rooms on both sides. We saved a bundle and got more travel.

Flexibility around dates can save money for travel too. Bottom line: don’t have tunnel vision when you book your flights. Trying to get to Madrid? You might save loads of money by flying into Stuttgart, Germany (which has some stellar car museums, btw). Be adventurous and open and see what you can save – you might end up flying in and out of somewhere really cool. So two mini-vacations for the price of one!

2. Browse Incognito

Some of the travel aggregator sites — sites where you find the cheapest airfares across all airlines — will look at your browser history to figure out which locations you’re most interested in. Then they’ll bump the prices they show you as a result. Using the Incognito browsing function while you shop disables the tracking and information gathering that makes it possible. You can also use apps like Hopper which send you updates as prices rise and fall.


The Cue Wrap Sleeveless Dress: Wrinkle-free and cocktail-ready.

3. Credit Cycle Your Recurring Bills

If you don’t have a credit card with rewards or airline miles, you’re walking away from travel money every time you put a purchase on your debit card. Set your recurring bills – utility bills, insurance payments, grocery, and gas — on your rewards or miles card. If you keep the payments regular, it quickly establishes a pattern of credit that ups your score… meaning you can qualify for better cards with more rewards and lower interest.

4. Groupon: Not Just for Your Hometown

This hack is so easy we’re amazed by how many people still get surprised by it: Groupon — that savings coupon site you use at home — also offers deals on trips and getaways, and is an international cheap activity resource. If you visit the website a few weeks before your trip, you’ll not only find savings on many of the things you want to do, you’ll see ideas for cool outings you never even thought of. Just browse the city you’re visiting and see what pops up. (And if if you want to keep the vacation going, look for local deals for services like house cleaning, yard maintenance or massage. Tack one of those onto your vacation during or after for a terrific homecoming experience.)


Travel can be unexpected. Prepare for anything in the Mission Ridge Shorts.

5. Pack a Water Bottle

Or buy one locally on your first day. Either way, the water you pour into it from your hotel room/restaurants/clean bathrooms will be far, far less expensive (and way more sustainable!) than shelling out for bottled water. In many European and Asian countries, water is more expensive than alcohol! So save money and buy alcohol. But drink water — just not a plastic bottle of it.

6. Buy the Bulky Stuff

With airfares getting progressively more competitive, airlines are charging more for extra baggage fees. Solution: Travel light and buy what you need there. A lot of bulk in your luggage is because of the same handful of culprits: toiletries, hats, jackets. Even a case big enough to protect your sunglasses. Depending on where you’re traveling to, you can buy those things on site for less than it costs to carry an extra bag. Anything you’re not willing to buy on site probably isn’t important enough to bring anyway.

7. Make Your Own Meals

After your flight and your hotel room, dining out is often the biggest expense. Save money by getting a hotel or AirBnB with a kitchen. Every other day, follow this agenda: Eat a simple breakfast at your hotel, have a big lunch at a killer local spot, then cook dinner and relax from a busy day. Yes, cheese and bread and wine count as “cooking dinner.” 


Dress them up. Dress them down. Dresses for any occasion.

8. Call Hotels Directly

Aggregator and accommodations websites are middlemen and will charge accordingly. National reservation lines can get you the best sticker price but aren’t empowered to find or give additional discounts. But the reservations person at the actual hotel where you’re staying? That person can get you the best deal — sometimes even fudging things a little to get you a conference or event discount you don’t technically qualify for. They’re also the best resource for how to get to the hotel, where to find the best cheap eats, and any free local attractions. The person answering the hotel phone will probably know more than anybody you talk to at home!

Final Thoughts

About a decade back, a research group released the results from a nearly 50-year study of what makes people happy. Few of their results were universal across all subjects, but one was: Experiences make us far happier than possessions.

They further found that travel is the kind of experience most likely to make us happy. So travel as much as you can afford. Tell em’ Toad sent ya.


Kelly S. Smith is a digital nomad currently based in Chiang Mai, Thailand. He’s a freelance copywriter and content marketer, contributing the occasional article on smart and affordable travel to help give his fellow travelers the chance to adventure around the world.

A Guide to Tomales Bay

Only a short, scenic and twisty trip from the hustle of San Francisco, lies the true California, coastal treasure of Tomales Bay. Approximately fifteen miles-long and one mile-wide, Tomales Bay was once home to the indigenous Coast Miwok people. Today the bay now plays host to a variety of aquatic recreational activities, not to mention home to California’s largest oyster production beginning in 1875.

Whether you’re interested in a day of sea kayaking, sailing, hiking or simply devouring some of the locally produced bounty, the Tomales Bay area is a wealth of riches that won’t disappoint. A place were the celebration of nature and great food seem to coexist in a way you don’t encounter every day.


When it comes to food, oysters seem to be the star of the show. While not loving oysters may not be a crime, it’s certainly frowned upon if you’re visiting this mollusk mecca. That said, if shucking oysters sitting on the very water they were pulled from sounds good then by all means stop by the legendary Hog Island and Tomales Bay Oyster Company.

Hog Island planted their first oyster seed in 1983 when their motto was “Strong backs and weak minds.” Well, they were clearly sandbagging because today they’re considered one of the premier producers of certified sustainable shellfish, harvesting over 3.5 million mouth-watering mollusks a year. As a true testament of commitment to their backyard, they’re also a Certified B Corporation and California Benefit Corporation. Achieving such designations require meeting rigorous standards related to social and environmental performance, accountability and transparency. Make sure to reserve a picnic table, order a bucket-o-beers and proceed to lay down a shuckin’ and grillin’ oyster fiesta you won’t soon forget.


Just down the road you’d find the Tomales Bay Oyster Company (TBOC) which was established in 1909 and is the oldest continuously run shellfish farm in California. Like Hog Island, TBOC has worked diligently over the years to become increasingly more sustainable and minimize plastic waste in the waters. When it comes to farm-to-table experiences, you’ll be hard pressed to beat eating oysters being pulled and cleaned twenty-yards from your picnic table. The team at TBOC is a close knit group of hard working, dedicated aquafarmers and watching them go about their business as you enjoy their fruits just makes you smile.

Perhaps Tomales Bay’s greatest virtue is its charismatic blend of quintessential and picturesque New England maritime flare with the Golden State’s laid back, good vibrations. Beautifully dilapidated fishing boats and weathered, shingled cabins pepper the coastline, waving peacefully at the occasional surf wagon that drifts by. To really soak up the vibe rent a house for a weekend or a rustic yet luxurious cottage from Nick’s Cove right on the water. Nick’s Cove also has an award-winning restaurant that truly takes advantage of the areas abundant farms from both the land and sea. Bottom line, get up here some time. You won’t regret it.


A Moment In Mexico

When it comes to feeling inspired, different forms of inspiration resonate with different types of people. For some, a motivating speech by an elite athlete is enough to inspire a gym membership and new workout clothing. For others, photos from a globetrotting social influencer are enough to purchase a plane ticket to a far off land. We could go on, but the bottom line is this; inspiration can be found anywhere and everywhere.

For our design team, a favorite form of inspiration comes from immersion into foreign cultures. In preparation for designing our Spring/Summer 2019 line, our women’s design team landed on the vibrant art and design scene of Mexico. A week of extensive shopping, museum visits, and people-watching in the mercados turned out to be just the inspiration they were after.

When we sat down to chat about their trip, Tonya Humiston and Guin Ganzel were most excited by the use of color throughout Mexico’s capital, from the street art housing to the extensive greenery of city parks. Bright blues, soft yellows, and sunset oranges blanketed everything from haciendas to women’s blouses. Mexico City’s unique palette seems to mirror its eclectic population. Soft hues of blue seem ushered in from Scandinavia, while warm pinks and yellows made their way to Mexico courtesy of eastern influence. As a melting pot of culture, the colors found in Mexico City are a great representation of its worldly inhabitants.

And like color combinations and flavor profiles, time also seems to change when you cross the border. Guin and Tonya often found themselves lost in time (and space) as they trekked between neighborhoods and followed their noses. The result? Stumbling upon local boutiques, stunning buildings, and one cinnamony, sugary, bliss-filled ‘churrero’. Fun travel fact of the day: a churro shop is called a churrero. Have we inspired your trip to “The City of Palaces” yet?

There’s nothing quite like traveling to spark a fire in the brain. Throw in warm weather, foreign languages, and spicy street food and you’ll really get the juices flowing. Exactly the goal for Guin, Tonya and our Spring 2019 collection.