Category Archives: holiday

The Best Destinations For A Christmas Holiday Getaway

Not everybody enjoys spending Christmas at home. For personal or practical reasons, many people choose to spend the festive season away. You can get some incredible deals if you book early enough, whether you want to enjoy the Christmas spirit in a faraway land, or want to forsake festivities altogether and enjoy sunnier climes away from the snow. 


The following are the holiday destinations that we think are perfect for anybody wanting to holiday this winter season.


Rome

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Rome is perfect for those who enjoy the religious aspects of Christmas. With Midnight Mass at the Pantheon on Christmas Eve, there is the opportunity to stand with the hundreds of people who celebrate Christ’s birth. Then stand under one of the biggest Christmas trees you will ever see at St Peter’s Square, and listen to the Pope give his traditional Christmas Day speech from this very location. However, Rome is also great for the people of any (or no) faith. There is a giant Christmas market at the Piazza Navona, with mulled wine and hot food to keep you warm. There is a giant outdoor ice skating rink at Castel Sant’angelo, and then there is the wonderful Christmas light display lined across many of Rome’s famed shopping streets.

Lapland

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You may have already read our article on things to do in Finland, but if not, know that is the holiday destination to visit if you have a young family. You will need to wrap up warm, but the trek to see Santa Claus at his Christmas Village is worth the winter chill. Tour the area on a dog-pulled sleigh or snowmobile, and catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights which are greater than any Christmas light display. Lapland is one of the most popular Winter destinations, so you will need to book early to avoid disappointment. Don’t worry, Santa will still visit you at home if you don’t make it!

The Gold Coast

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Can’t stand the cold and the snow? Then head to warmer climes and book one of these

Elite Holiday Homes on the Gold Coast. If you are a bit of a Grinch and want to get away from anything to do with Christmas, you can sunbathe on one of the many beaches, with endless stretches of sand and sea. However, if you still want to celebrate the season, there is much to do. Visit the seaside resort of Surfers Paradise and catch the unusual sight of Santa’s sleigh being pulled along by kangaroos, visit the Sanctuary Cove Christmas Carnival at the Marine Village, and keep up with the Joneses by heading to suburbia for the annual Christmas Light competition. You won’t even need to don your hat and gloves, unlike your poor relatives at home.

New York

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Home to many of the best Christmas movies… Home Alone 2, Miracle on 34th Street and.. erm.. Die Hard… you are guaranteed to have a magical time in this, one of the greatest cities in the world. Walk down Fifth Avenue and check out the iconic window displays at Bergdorf Goodman. Take the Holiday Train Show through the Botanical Gardens, and marvel at the miniaturised versions of The Statue of Liberty and Grand Central Station. Go and see the classic Christmas tale The Nutcracker, performed by The New York City Ballet. Ice skate at Central Park. Then gaze in awe at the festive light display on the Empire State Building. Absolutely magical!

Over to you

So, what are you going to do this Christmas? You don’t need to stay at home with your bickering relatives if they drive you up the wall. Fly away to one of the destinations we mentioned, and enjoy the season celebrating the season the way you want to.





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Back… to the Future!

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Back in April, I got to visit one of the most iconic locations where Back to the Future was filmed. As you can see in the photo above, this place is often written off as a large empty parking lot at a mediocre mall. But for me, I could see the places where Marty skateboarded to the Twin Pines sign (which warped into a Lone Pine sign by the end of the movie), where Doc introduced his latest invention of a time machine, and where the Delorean took its maiden voyage back to the future.

Although the mall scenes only appeared in the first movie of the trilogy, something very significant happened in the sequel. Doc and Marty travel from 1985 to 2015. More specifically, they travel to October 21st, 2015. Of course many people across the country and around the world are celebrating this day in history, or should I say this day in future? Puente Hills Mall in City of Industry, California, better known to fans as the Twin Pines/ Lone Pine Mall, had to jump on board with the festivities. The photo below was taken today, in the same place as the photo above. Check out the cool mall sign!

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This month the mall added a Twin Pines sign in the same spot it is seen in the movie. But that’s not all. If you look down at the parking lot (just as Marty did in the movie), you’ll see a peculiar white truck parked down below, likely surrounded by people taking pictures with it. This is Dr. Emmett Brown’s truck that he uses to transport the Delorean time machine to the mall parking lot for a test drive in the movie.

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I was very thankful to have this unique opportunity on this special day. It wasn’t even the reason I went to California to begin with. I originally wasn’t even supposed to leave Oregon until tomorrow, but plans changed and things just happened to align! If you’ll be in the area, Puente Hills Mall has the sign and truck free for fans to view through the weekend.

Liked this post? Answer one of the following questions:

1. Did you do anything special for Back to the Future Day?

2. Have you ever visited a movie prop or set? What was it?

3. What do you think the future will be like in 30 years? Will we finally get flying cars and hoverboards?

An Outdoor Retreat

Nearly two weeks ago, I attended a young adult Bible study for the first time. Since I was a newbie, and summer and European possibilities weren’t too far away, I didn’t expect much to come of it. But little did I know that the group was planning an outdoor retreat! I didn’t know anybody, but since I was invited I decided to go for it. So on Friday afternoon, I brought my over-packed backpack, sleeping bag, and pillow to a big white van where I met up with a few of the others. We hopped in and headed south to Klamath National Forest in Northern California.

Now, if you read this website as inspiration for your own travels, I must warn you that I can only sort of help you in this post. This retreat was done mostly on private property. However, if you can find a natural setting, you can still imitate a multitude of things that happened in the past couple of days.

Go Off-Grid

Our humble abode for two nights: no electricity, plumbing, or cell service!
Our humble abode for two nights: no electricity, plumbing, or cell service!

I do believe that the internet is a wonderful thing. But I think all of us can admit that, deep down inside, there is something missing from it. When we rely on instant connectivity, we tend to forget about connecting with the people and environment around us. Since everyone that went was in the same boat, we enjoyed some rare, uninterrupted face-to-face connection.

Have a Campfire

Fire was our only source of heat on this trip, so it brought us together on so many levels!
Fire was our only source of heat on this trip, so it brought us together on so many levels!

Mix a little bit of danger, a little bit of fellowship, and a little bit of visual stimulation, and you would get what’s known as a campfire. Now, campfire’s aren’t all fun. This weekend I ended up with a hole in my favorite pair of pajama pants due to a spark landing on them! But even after that incident, the fire ring was still the best place to circle up and participate in conversation.

Enjoy Solitude

My solo toes pointing to my view during my time away.
My solo toes pointing to my view during my time away.

For a couple hours on Saturday morning, each trip participant had the opportunity to go into a different part of the property for some time alone. Since there was no agenda during this time, we could read the Bible, nap, pray, snack, journal, sing, or just be still and become more aware of our surroundings. I did a bit of all that, except for sleeping. (The army of ants crawling up my shoes encouraged me to stay awake and alert!) My spot was next to the creek with cascading miniature waterfalls. While this activity was very simplistic, it actually turned out to be a unique and enjoyable activity. After all, how often do you get the opportunity be alone and away from anything man-made?

Enjoy Company

Although I only had had small talk with a few people before this trip, I got to know everyone better this weekend.
Although I only had had small talk with a few people before this trip, I got to know everyone better this weekend.

Whether it was taking the long drive to and from our destination, sharing a meal, setting things up, coexisting during downtime, or trying to figure out how to remove the head of a tick from someone’s skin without any tools, there were plenty of opportunities to enjoy each other’s company. (Except when we were enjoying solitude as mentioned in the point above!) Funny, interesting, and embarrassing stories were shared. It may have been because it was a limited number of people with limitations on things we could do (being off-grid after all), but we got to know each other faster than people I’ve seen on a regular basis over a long period of time.

Take a Hike

Hiking through the woods
Hiking through the woods

Hikes are always fun. We took a hike that would have been fairly short, except the trail wasn’t always a trail. Sometimes vegetation made it hard to find the path. Sometimes we had to climb over or in-between rocks. For a few instances we balanced on a log as we crossed the creek. There were several points where we relied on the literal helping hand of others. A couple people got scrapes or bee stings. Twice I fell! But the unique situations made it all the more adventurous.

Find a Waterfall

There were several waterfalls along our hike, ending with this one.
There were several waterfalls along our hike, ending with this one.

You must know that I love waterfalls. There weren’t any waterfalls that we found notable enough to be named, but we found several tucked away deep into the woods. We were quite possibly among the few people who were able to witness this unknown waterfalls, which in and of itself was something pretty special.

Raft a River

One of our rafts on the Klamath River.
One of our rafts on the Klamath River.

This weekend marked my first time rafting in California. Actually, it was my first official time rafting anything other than the Rogue River. While I didn’t attain my goal of rafting over class five rapids, we did hit a few fun class threes. Plus, there was plenty of calmer water where we just got to talk, splash around, and find birds and turtles. Our group took two rafts out on the Klamath River on Sunday, and it was a beautiful day for doing so. Definitely a highlight!

Don’t Keep Time

Day and night are the best ways to tell time, anyway.
Day and night are the best ways to tell time, anyway.

A few years ago, I read a book where one chapter issued a challenge to spend some time without keeping time. It was a nice idea, but since I always need to be somewhere or do something at a certain time every day, I could never do this for a sufficient period. But as we pulled into our camp for the weekend, I decided to turn off my phone and not turn it back on until we were headed home. I didn’t bring a watch or any other way to tell time. In fact, the only electronic I used was my camera, and the time stamp on that isn’t even accurate! Other than overhearing a few people tell each other what time it was, I had no idea what time it was at any point in time. It didn’t matter if it was 10 am or 2 pm, lunch time was when I was hungry. Bed time was when it was dark and I was tired. I don’t know if I went to bed at 9:30 or midnight. You probably won’t understand how it feels until you try this yourself, but it is a very freeing experience.

I also used this weekend as a study on how I pack, in preparation for packing for three months of Europe in a carry-on. Coming up, you’ll see what I learned from this experiment.

Since today is Memorial Day in the United States, I’m sure plenty of you have also enjoyed some sort of outdoor experience this weekend. Share what you did in the comments!

Happy (Chinese) New Year!

Chinese New Year is officially on February 19th this year, but the city of Jacksonville, Oregon decided to celebrate it a couple weeks early. Each year, the historic town honors the Chinese workers who contributed so much during the formation of the town during the gold rush by celebrating all the culture and festivities that go along with Chinese New Year.

Several years ago, I managed to get a day off of work to attend the festivities with my sister. I hadn’t been able to do it any other year that I lived in Oregon, but it sure was fun! I wanted to make a point of attending this year, but it just so happened that I was scheduled to work. Fortunately, my job for the day was my childcare job. After asking the mom, we both thought the kids would benefit from a fun day at the Chinese New Year festivities. As an added bonus, it saved a bunch of money by learning about Chinese culture just a few miles away instead of heading on a trip to China!

The main attraction is the parade. Tons of local businesses and organizations get involved. Since it was hard to find a parking space at one of Jacksonville’s most populated days of the year, we had to walk a ways to get to the main street where the parade was taking place. We found a nice empty space of curb near the end of the route just as the parade was beginning.

It started off with some cool classic cars.

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The Southern Oregon University Raiders used this opportunity to promote some of their programs, like foreign exchange.IMG_20150207_103821_909

And then there’s one of the Jacksonville trolleys. I took a tour of Jacksonville in this trolley several years ago, and it sure is fun! During the parade, the seats were filled with orchestra members. That sure beats playing in a marching band!

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Being a parade to mainly celebrate Chinese culture, there were several of the traditional dragons. Some of the dragon cast members had fun getting up in kids’ faces and pretending to bite at them!

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There were several different dance groups. Here was the first one in the lineup:IMG_20150207_105108_982

And there were a few costumed characters. The dragon one was more elaborate, but nothing beats the adorableness of a panda!

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Although this is more British than Chinese, these were performers from the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, so I guess it sort of made sense.

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Several school groups got involved too, such as the school one of “my” kids attend. Another school made their own Chinese dragon costumes.

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And how can you resist the cuteness of a young girls’ cheer team? They did “Go Rams” cheers, since this upcoming Chinese New Year is the Year of the Ram.

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There were quite a few dragons considering that it wasn’t even the Year of the Dragon. This could be a scary parade for some children!

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One group paraded all the animal years, starting with this year’s Year of the Ram. Although I was born in the Year of the Ram (so does that make this year some sort of special anniversary for me?), I think I would prefer to be Year of the Bunny!

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And some old fashioned cars. I think the drivers had fun breaking all the rules of the road as the zigzagged the entire width of the street!

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And bagpipers. Bagpipers are pretty nifty, even though that’s really more Irish than Chinese.IMG_20150207_110410_225

Then again, the parade celebrated many different cultures, not just Chinese. These flamenco dancers seem to prove that…

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…And hula dancing originated from a different land as well!

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This picture didn’t turn out so great since this tractor was going fairly fast, but this daycare turned a cute little tractor ride into cute little rams!

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A historic-futuristic mashup tourist attraction in Jacksonville is their Segway tours. Oh, how I want to try out a Segway!IMG_20150207_111106_339

And even more dragons…

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The parade ended with a decked-out motorcycle!

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When the parade ended, the festivities were nowhere near complete. Special activities all over town were taking place. One advantage of Jacksonville is that nearly everything is within walking distance, even if you have a couple of tykes tagging along! If I had gone by myself or with someone closer to my age, I probably would have enjoyed the artifact exhibitions and the martial arts self-defense class. Since I was with kids, we ended up jumping in a bounce house (well, I didn’t, although it did look like fun!), making crafts, playing games, and learning origami. Although we only went to the activities marked specifically for children, I even had a bit of fun with the challenge to try to transfer marbles in a bowl to another bowl using only chopsticks!

After several hours, we had to leave the festivities, but the events in my day weren’t over yet! After bringing the kids back to their house, I headed over to my own home to get ready for my next event of the day. But I’ll wait until tomorrow to share that experience!

On the First Day of Chanukah…

I’m not Jewish. I celebrate Christmas every December. I believe with my whole heart that Jesus is Lord. But ever since I was young, I was taught the games, songs, and traditions of the “Other Winter Holiday”.

No, not Kwanzaa.

Regardless of religion, Chanukah is a memorial to miracles and blessings. For many years now, I’ve taken these eight days to look for miracles and blessings in the small stuff. For example, Chanukah started last night, when I was in a meeting at the Magdalene Home. It was a miracle that I could get the schedule from one of my other jobs changed so I could finally be a part of this amazing staff. There we were blessed with delicious food, an ornament exchange, and a few other gifts. When I went to my other job (where I was also blessed with some gifts: a candy cane and a turkey!), I drove through the downtown area where I could see beautiful light displays. I haven’t really been able to see many lights since I typically go to work in the afternoon before they turn on and come home in the middle of the night long after they’ve been turned off. But as I drove past them, full of warm fuzzies, I realized that I had finally gotten into the Christmas spirit. A Christmas miracle- at the start of Chanukah!

A couple years ago, I bought a five dollar menorah on Amazon. I looked in several different stores to get candles to go with it, but I couldn’t find any. (I’ve even looked in several different WalMarts with no such luck! Which brings me to another point- why did they rename all the things in what used to be the Christmas section as “holiday decorations” when the only holiday they’re for is Christmas? But I digress…) So that year, I just used some way-too-small birthday candles that burned out after a couple of minutes and had to be replaced every single night. The next year, I didn’t light my menorah since Chanukah started on Thanksgiving and thus I spent most of those eight nights as a guest in a coworker’s family’s home. But of course that year, I found menorah candles in just about every store (except for WalMart, of course).

This year, my WalMart endeavor once again proved unsuccessful, so I forgot about it until just yesterday when I realized that Chanukah was beginning. I decided to stop at Walgreens after I got off of work. Even if they didn’t have menorah candles, they’d certainly have some sort of candles I could use in a pinch! So when I got off of work at midnight, I drove right past the awful WalMart and turned into the parking lot of the other store that begins with Wal. And there I saw it: a big lit-up sign that read “Open ‘Til Midnight”. And of course, it was just a few minutes past! But then, I remembered something I saw on Pinterest:

These illuminating crayons. | 27 Everyday Objects That Went Beyond The Call Of Duty

This wasn’t an emergency, but it would have to do. So when I got home, I filled my menorah with crayons. (From the same exact kind of box as is shown in the Pin, mind you.) It was actually a miracle itself that the crayons fit perfectly in the candle holders. Then after finding something to light the shamash with, I set a lit match up against the prominent crayon…

And this is all that happened:

Pretty exciting? NOT!

So although my menorah looks colorful, it’s not going to actually have flames unless I find some candles today. But I’ll continue to look for all the little miracles and blessings in each day anyway.

Holiday Travel: Is It Worth It?

Seeing my first Great Lake (Erie) Thanksgiving weekend 2013.
Seeing my first Great Lake (Erie) Thanksgiving weekend 2013.

With Thanksgiving just around a few days away, people across the country are making travel plans, whether they are for next week or next month. Of course it’s justifiable: people want to see their families during winter holidays, and this may be only time of year that some people can take off from school and work. With millions of people planning trips, should the true traveler go along with the masses?

Thanksgiving is typically a low-key holiday for me. Most Thanksgivings growing up were simply spent at home with just immediate family. There were a few times we made the trip to California to spend the weekend with relatives, and once we even took a frigid Thanksgiving camping trip to Yosemite National Park, but I’m pretty sure every single Thanksgiving was spent in either California or Oregon. This coming Thanksgiving will actually be the first Thanksgiving in four years that I will spend the day with people that I’m related to. The past three years in Nebraska and Ohio, I have been blessed to be connected with a different coworker each year that invites me to be an honorary family member for the occasion. This has even provided me with opportunities to see new places. Two years ago, I discovered the area around little West Point, Nebraska. Last year was the complete opposite of the small-town holiday as I explored metropolitan Cleveland.

Riding the California Zephyr somewhere along the Colorado Rockies.
Riding the California Zephyr somewhere along the Colorado Rockies.

Although I don’t care much about what I do for Thanksgiving (as long as I celebrate it!), I have always gone out of my way to spend Christmas with my family. When I first moved out of Oregon, I wasn’t sure if I would keep this tradition, but I was able to take an affordable train trip from Omaha to Sacramento, and then from there to Klamath Falls where my family picked me up on Christmas Eve morning. In the following years it ended up being more reasonable to fly, but even then it proved to be an adventure, such as last year when the fog delayed me for three days so I had to go to Eugene to catch a red-eye flight!

One of the light displays at the Shore Acres Holiday Lights. The sequence shows the sea lion jumping into the water with a splash!

Even back when I didn’t have to travel to see my family, we would occasionally take a trip around Christmastime. If we didn’t go to Southern California for Christmas, we would always spend Christmas at home, but sometimes we would go on a little trip before or after the 25th. In fact, the first time we went to Mexico was when my family took a cruise the week before Christmas! Another fun destination was camping at the Oregon coast to walk around the intricate Shore Acres Holiday Lights as we sipped hot cider. In fact any trip to the coast was a warmer way to celebrate the Christmas season. When I visited two years ago, my family made an overnight trip to Brookings and went through a bit of California on the way there.

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Standing among Redwoods in Northern California, Christmas 2012.

So yes, I love Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, and all the special occasions of winter. Of course, I also love to travel. And as you can see, I’ve done my share of holiday travel… but is it worth it? Let’s weigh the pros and cons:

Pros:

-Students are guaranteed at least a few days off.

-In many industries, it is easier to get this time of year off than any other time. Well, this doesn’t apply if you work in retail, but I was sometimes able to get a day or two off in December when I was a store associate!

-Traveling to see family or do something meaningful makes the holiday even more memorable.

-Sledding, snow shoeing, skiing, and other activities that can only be done during winter weather make for a great excuse to hit the snow caps.

-For those who want to avoid the cold, traveling south can make the winter more pleasant.

-There are some special events limited only to this time of year, such as light displays, living nativities, and old-fashioned Christmas parties.

Cons: 

-Prices jump on everything travel related! It’s not much of a stretch to think of the price of flights, gasoline, or hotels as doubling. Even budget travel resources, such as trains and hostels, have a tendency to rise for certain holidays.

-Many destinations get incredibly crowded. And you thought Black Friday shopping lines were bad!

-If this season eats away too much at your travel budget, this could prevent you from going on trips at other times of year when the weather is better, crowds are smaller, and prices are lower.

-Even in areas with more pleasant weather, you are more likely to be able to do more in the summer months at the same destination.

Although I could come up with more pros than cons for holiday travel, I think each of these cons are pretty negative. So what’s the verdict? Well, if I need to travel in order to properly celebrate a holiday, then by all means I will travel! But I’m not going to go out of my way to book a trip to Bermuda, or take off for an extended snow trip in the Rockies.

Because so many people are unwilling to work as Christmas comes closer, I think this is a perfect time to pick up some extra work. (And then use that extra cash on a later trip!) Several years ago when I worked part-time in retail, as soon as my school went on break I ended up with practically a full-time schedule in order to keep up with the extended shopping hours and cover for my coworkers who could not make it to work. Right now, I just finished my training for my seasonal job at the Harry and David call center, where pretty soon I could be picking up 70 hours per week if I wanted to! (Plus, I get free and heavily-discounted gourmet food and gifts, which- let’s be honest- that’s why I’m really there!) Naturally, jobs like these involve dealing with people who find the holidays to be more stressful than they should be, but when I think of dealing with each cranky customer as putting money in my travel fund, it puts everything in perspective.

Since I don’t have to travel for Christmas this year since I’m already living by my family, I appreciate the fact that the money I could be spending for just a few days of Christmas break can now be used to fund a couple weeks on a future trip. But even though I won’t be going on any extended trips to exotic locations until 2015, I do plan to take several smaller trips over the remaining weeks of the year. Just from writing this post right now, I think I may have convinced myself to make a trip out to the Pacific coast! With my connections and employee perks at Harry and David, I have the opportunity to go on their popular tour where you can see some of the world’s largest popcorn poppers and acres of pear trees. And although Christmas break is a popular travel time, travel business isn’t so great in the weeks before and after, so I may take advantage of discounted travel prices during this time.

In fact, I’m getting ready to go on a trip this very weekend! I’ll be leaving in just a few hours, and I can’t wait to tell you all about it when I get back!