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'Be A Little Bit Fearless,' And Research Online, For Unique Vacations

Christina Opalka
It only takes a few hours by car (and a few days by horse) to enjoy this trip through Washington's Pasayten Wilderness.

Group tours and all-inclusive resorts make getting away easy. But sometimes you want to plan your own trip and escape the usual tourist destinations. 

That's what Christina Opalka does. She and her family have had some spectacular trips. And she says if you're willing to research enough online, and "be a little bit fearless," you can, too. 

Pasayten Wilderness, Washington

Opalka, her husband and her two daughters went on a five-day horseback tour through this rugged 500,000-acre area in the Okanagon National Forest, near the Canadian border. They were guided by Cascade Wilderness Outfitters.

"There are a lot of horses, they all know the trails, and they'll take you out with your sleeping bag," Opalka said. "You'll stay overnight by these alpine meadows, or by a lake."

Wildfires have scorched some of the land here, both this year and in the past. 

Credit Christina Opalka
The Nature Observatorio, in Costa Rica, is a two-story treehouse that will come down in five to seven years, and move to another tree. (Trees grow, treehouses do not.) It's also a good place to spend a vacation, says "Going Places" contributor Christina Opalka.

A Treehouse In Costa Rica

A personal connection led Opalka and her family to the Nature Observatorio in Costa Rica.

This giant treehouse sits 25 meters off the ground. You can hoist yourself up using a pulley system (it's easier than it sounds) and enjoy views from the forest canopy.

"It's completely still. You can hear the howler monkeys coming through, and the toucans, and the owls at night," she said. "It is stunning. You get really invovled with sounds."

It's designed to be environmentally friendly, too, so it will move once it's outgrown by the tree it currently occupies.

OK, But...

... maybe escaping to a treehouse in Costa Rica or a five-day horseback journey isn't your style or within your budget. The same concept still applies, Opalka says, whether you're going somewhere far away or just trying to make a quick getaway: You have the power to build your own vacation, thanks in large part to the Internet.

Review sites, like TripAdvisor or Yelp, allow you to get pretty good information on a potential destination -- and often stuff the brochures won't tell you. And sites like or VRBO let you find unique accommodations pretty easily.

Opalka likes these kinds of vacations because you meet local people and get to absorb local culture. That's not to say there's anything wrong with just heading to a hotel, either.

"It's about tuning out and not so much tuning in to a local culture," she said. "There's a place for that. I would never debunk a beautiful resort."


"Going Places" is KPLU's weekly exploration of travel topics. Christina Opalka is an associate of our travel expert, Matthew Brumley, the co-founder of Earthbound Expeditions on Bainbridge Island. Earthbound provides small-group travel to clients including KPLU.

Ed Ronco is a former KNKX producer and reporter and hosted All Things Considered for seven years.