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
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
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
(image) 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
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.
There’s no better feeling than seeing the world, and I mean with your own two eyes and not through a computer screen. For one reason or another, a place that is on most people’s bucket list is Australia. Perhaps it’s the warm weather, the magnificent beaches, the wine or the food, but whatever the reason, if you are planning to travel to Australia anytime soon, there are a few things that you have to remember.
Skip The Hotel
If you don’t know already, things in Australia cost a lot more than they do back home. This is likely to be because workers in Australia are paid a lot more per hour than they would in most other countries. Unfortunately, this means that you’ll need to take a lot of money with you on your trip. To cut costs a little, skip the hotel, and book a room or apartment using Airbnb instead. This means that you can also save on food, as you can cook your own meals, instead of eating out.
Rent A Car
If you’re planning to visit Perth, the capital of Western Australia, then you will likely need to rent a car during your stay. This is because Perth is incredibly spread out, so it takes a while to get anywhere. Public transport is great, with some bus and train systems even offering free rides, but is also often overcrowded, which won’t make for fun mornings if it’s really warm. Click vehicle hire Perth if you need to hire a car for your trip.
Book Travel Insurance
You should take out travel insurance whenever you leave the country, just in case anything happens, but when travelling to somewhere like Australia, it’s absolutely essential. For starters, you’re travelling a much longer distance, which means there’s a much higher chance for your airline to lose one of your suitcases. There are also a lot more dangers in Australia, especially if you intend to do any adventure sports, like scuba diving.
The Climate’s Opposite
A lot of people think that Australia is hot all year round, when there are four seasons a year, just like most other places. In fact, the seasons are opposite to those in the Northern Hemisphere, with summer being from December to February, and winter being from June to August. You can even get snow, as long as you visit the southern mountain regions. If you are visiting Australia throughout the summer, you have to remember to keep in the shade as much as possible and be sure to slap on sunscreen. You can burn to a crisp in under thirty minutes if you’re not careful, so be careful.
There is a lot to see and do in Australia, but if you want to make the most out of your trip, and stay safe, then be sure to remember the advice above. In particular, be sure to be safe with the sun, and book your travel insurance. Other than that, have lot’s of fun and take plenty of pictures to remember your time away.
Finland is the ultimate festive wonderland if you are looking for a place to get yourself ready for Christmas. During the winter months, Finland is covered in thick snow and has plenty of amazing places to visit, from national parks, to Santa’s home, to bustling cities filled with festive smells and sights.
This village is underneath the Arctic Circle, and takes you away from the real world and into Santa’s. You’ll find yourself in the midst of everything festive as you bake with Mrs Claus, meet the man himself and even attend elf school. If you weren’t feeling festive before, you will be now.
If you love the snow, then a visit to the village of Kemi will be just the thing for you. You’ll be able to make towering snowmen, have fun in the snow with your skis, or even go sledding with the kids. It’s like the ultimate snowy wonderland for you and your family.
Santa lives in Lapland, and you will find no shortage of the festive spirit visiting the northernmost region of the country. Reindeer roam wild in the forests, and you will be able to ride and feed them too. At Santa’s grotto, you will be able to experience a magical sleigh ride and plenty of festive fun.
4. The Festival of St Lucia
For those of you who haven’t heard of this festival: it occurs every December 13th and celebrates the life of St Lucia. St Lucia was a Christian girl who became a martyr in 304. The festival celebrates her life with a girl wearing a crown of candles. Everyone parade through the streets and eats great food to celebrate the life of this young saint.
5. Christmas Markets, Helsinki
The Christmas markets are one of the most festive places to be in December. They happen all over Europe, but in Finland the most impressive is in the capital, Helsinki. In this city, an ice skating rink is open to the public throughout the winter, and snow covers the entire landscape. You’ll be able to walk around and smell various cheeses, meats and sweets cooking on the street; as well as warm your cockles with a mug of mulled wine. Walk around and do some Christmas shopping as you enjoy the full immersive festive experience.
If it is an old-fashioned, quirky village experience you are after, then Turku is the best place to visit at this time of the year. Turku is not only the former capital of Finland, but it is also the oldest city in the entire country. As you walk through the cobbled streets and thin alleyways, you’ll be able to visit tonnes of independent shop owners selling unique pieces and wears. The whole city becomes blanketed in snow during the colder months, so you’ll be able to fully experience walking through a winter wonderland.
Traveling is a brilliant thing. It lets you see the world, meet new people, have new experiences, learn about responsibility, nature, money, politics and culture and can genuinely shape you as a person. Everyone should travel at least a little in their lives.
But, we all do it in different ways. Some of us try to see vast amounts of the world in one go on a giant expedition. Other people go on the odd city break and family weeks away with their kids. Some even wait until retirement and travel the world in their own time, with a little more money behind them, knowing they have no commitments tying them down at home and feeling like they’ve earned this one great adventure.
We also have different places on our travel bucket lists. Some of us want to visit sites of great romance, others have an urge to visit the sites of great battles, and some just want to go to Disneyland. It’s all cool. But, whenever you travel, whoever you do it with, and whatever your personal to-do list includes, there are some amazing places on earth that absolutely everyone should see before they die. Those places that take your breath away, put your life into perspective and inspire you. The sights and scenes that no computer screen or postcard could ever do justice. The places you cannot merely just hear or read about. Here is a look at 16 of these destinations.
If you are after a romantic city break, there’s none better than Venice. Spend time exploring the city’s canals by gondola, check out the renaissance architecture such as St. Mark’s Basilica and eat authentic Italian cuisine in its home. It’s also thought that Venice could be completely under water within a century if the Mediterranean Sea continues to rise. So, you’ll be experiencing something that future generations will never get a chance to see.
The great barrier reef is a popular feature on any list of must-see places. If you’ve got a keen interest in nature, swimming the Great Barrier Reef is an absolute must. The diversity of sea life, with over 1600 different species of fish, as well as other underwater life and nature, is truly breathtaking.
Salar De Uyuni is the world’s largest salt flat at 10582 square kilometres. In the right weather conditions, it’s basically transformed into a giant mirror, reflected the skyline and giving a somewhat ethereal imagery. A vision you won’t see anywhere else on earth.
The Grand Canyon is so well known, it’s often one of the first places people think of when writing their travel bucket lists. The best word to describe the Canyon is immense. It’s layered rock displays millions of years of geological history, and it has a wonderful way of putting your own problems and worries into perspective.
The Bamboo Forest is a popular tourist attraction in Arashiyama, Kyoto. Walking through the forest, you are surrounded by tall bamboo. Depending on the season of your visit, the bamboo displays varying colours including reds, yellows and oranges.
Reed Flute Cave, China
Also known as The Palace of Natural Arts, the Reed Flute Cave is named for the colourful and divergent reeds growing around its entrance. The cave itself is a water-eroded natural limestone cave. The rock formations inside have taken on many different shapes and colours, and the cave contains original ink inscriptions dating back to the 8th century.
This national park is a forest reserve in central Croatia. If you are looking for peace and quiet and a chance to get back to nature while exploring the gorgeous scenery, this is it. The park is home to 16 lakes, joined together by waterfalls which extend into a limestone canyon. There are also hiking trails around the water to make exploring easy.
The Great Blue Hole, Belize
The Great Blue Hole of Belize is the most massive sinkhole in the world. If you are a keen diver, like the Great Barrier Reef this is a place you simply have to dive. Explore sea life and nature you won’t get to see anywhere else on earth.
Yellowstone National Park, USA
The many National Parks in the USA are all home to their own communities, histories and culture. They offer visitors the chance to learn about their history and formation as well as any nature they may find. Yellowstone national park spreads from Wyoming into both Idaho and Montana. It’s home to canyons, rivers, forest, hot springs and geysers and hundreds of different animal species. A must for anyone that likes a bit of adventure on their break.
The Taj Mahal is well known for its beauty and grace. Even if you’ve got no interest in religion, you’ll more than likely find yourself feeling more spiritual during your trip. It’s a building renowned as a symbol of love and passion and can change your outlook on the world in general.
Angkor Wat, Cambodia
Angkor Wat is the biggest religious monument in the world. A group of temple buildings, well maintained and preserved Angkor Wat is something of an architectural masterpiece. It’s the perfect blend of a huge, overpowering structure, and beautiful tiny details and will take your breath away again and again as you notice more of the finer details once you start to explore.
While you are allowed to explore the whole site, Angkor Wat is a sacred site, so you will be required to dress modestly, with your arms and legs covered for the duration of your visit.
Pamukkale is a town filled with hot, mineral-rich waters, which flow down a white hillside. It almost looks like something from a fantasy film. People believe that the soothing waters have healing properties. But, whether or not this is true, it’s great for your skin and a truly relaxing experience.
Lencois Maranhenses is a sight to behold, unlike anything else on earth. The huge expanses of desert surround fresh rainwater lagoons. Seeing it first hand can be shocking like your eyes can’t quite accept what they see as the gorgeous white sands lead into still blue waters. Definitely worth a trip.
The Northern Lights, Iceland
Seeing the Northern lights is a once in a lifetime experience. But, unfortunately, they can be hard to predict. The best time to visit Iceland if you are hoping to see the northern lights is when the nights are darkest, between September and April. But even within those months, weather plays an important part. Staying away from the city lights out in the country can also increase your chances.
Uluwatu Temple, Bali
Bali itself is a must-visit destination with its long sandy beaches, relaxing hideaways, volcanic mountains, coral reefs and wine paddies. Uluwatu Temple is a sea temple dedicated to Sang Hyang Wasa. The perfect place to visit to meditate and unwind. With so much to see, bali holiday packages can offer the best way to get around and make the most of your trip.
Remember, you’ve got your whole life to see them all. It’s never too late, or too early. So, write yourself a list and get going.
Ed note: I’ve seen 2.5 out of 16! (I can’t fully count the Grand Canyon because I don’t remember that trip as a toddler.) Tell me how many of these you’ve seen in the comments!
Despite being only about an hour and a half away from my home, I felt as if I had somehow been transported to an African safari. I rode around in safari trucks with guides who knew a lot about the dozens of animals we passed. And before falling asleep in my tent, I listened to the carols of a pride of lions.
In reality, I was at Wildlife Safari near Winston, Oregon. I’ve been to this drive-thru safari experience a few times, but that wasn’t in the plans for this trip. I was there to take part in Roars and Snores, which involves a sleepover inside a lion enclosure, plus a jam-packed itinerary for animal enthusiasts. The event description on their website was somewhat vague, so I knew I was in for a weekend of surprises!
I arrived at Wildlife Safari an hour before Roars and Snores began. This was the perfect amount of time to enjoy the free Safari Village, which has a petting zoo, taxidermy room, and dozens of animals you can’t see in the drive-thru safari. There’s also an overlook to the lion enclosures, where I saw staff setting up for the night’s experience. Then I went to the gift shop to check-in. I was told to have a seat in the restaurant where guests would soon enjoy dinner and a presentation.
The barbecue-style dinner was delicious, with enough food and variety for everyone to eat as much as they wanted. Several zookeepers showed us slideshows about two animals we would see that evening: lions of course, and also bears. I learned a lot about these beasts, like how lions “carol”, which is a sort of role call using roars.
After everyone was stuffed, we walked it off on the way to the nearby lion enclosure. The keepers explained how they don’t train Wildlife Safari’s animals to do tricks like a circus might. However, they do need to train the creatures in some ways to make sure that they stay healthy. For example, we got to watch the lions mimic their trainers by lifting up their paws, and that way they could be inspected for injuries. Each lion who did this was rewarded with raw meat kebabs. However, no one at Wildlife Safari forces the animals to do anything. These snacks were a good encouragement to get inspected and go into their nighttime shelter, but if a lion chose not to do this one night, then the staff would record this and try again the next day, but otherwise let the lion be.
Since these aren’t truly “trained” lions, we got to see some of their wild instincts up-close through the safety of a fence. When the lions saw the children in our group, or even adults squatting down, they would pace in front of that person. In the wild, lions often go after smaller prey because it’s a more guaranteed victory for them. But some of these lions’ habits weren’t the same as a wild lion. In this pride, a female was in charge. Typically a male would be the head of a pride, but since the two adult male lions were rescues, the females had more skills. The adult males are also kept separate from the cubs so that a male cub doesn’t try to overpower an adult male like they often do in the wild.
After the lions went to bed for the day, we hopped on the safari trucks and headed over to the bear enclosure. On the way, we passed through parts of the African and North American sections of the safari, so we got to see several species along the way. When we got to the bears, I watched them eat watermelon, play with boxes, and take their medicine. It was a great experience, but I hope I don’t get that close to a bear in nature!
By the time we were bussed down to the lion enclosure with all of our camping gear, it was getting dark. I don’t think I’ve ever set up my tent after sundown before, but it was accomplished! We were rewarded with a campfire and s’mores. Maybe the event should have been called Roars, Snores, and S’mores!
I really liked how the staff thought of everything to make the stay as pleasant as possible. Besides dinner and s’mores in the evening, ice chests full of beverages were available. This was especially helpful since I had left my water bottle in my car parked a mile away. An outhouse was places in our lion enclosure to use at night, but there were a few opportunities to use the Safari Village restrooms before that. (As a note, Safari Village is really cool after the park closes and the usual guests have left.) Even a continental breakfast was provided, which wasn’t mentioned in the information online.
Although this event is called Roars and Snores, neither of those happened until after I had crawled into my sleeping bag for the night. Lions use their roars as a way to keep track of everyone else, so when one lion roars, the others roar back. When the lions listen to this “carol”, they are able to tell if someone is missing, or if a stranger participated in the carol. They did this roll call (or is it a “roar call”?) several times at night before the roars of the lions were replaced by the snores of the other campers.
I awoke the next morning to more lion carols- quite the alarm clock! I got ready foe the day, tore down my campsite, and leisurely enjoyed the continental breakfast. Two African cranes noticed that all of us humans were caged up and walked over to the outside of our fence. It was like they had gone to the zoo to see the people exhibit!
Our first activity that morning was to go inside the enclosure that the lion cubs would use that day. We took cardboard boxes, spritzed them with perfume, and placed them around the enclosure. Apparently lions love playing with boxes and the scent of perfume interests them, but I think it also helped that the keepers placed meat in some of them! Once we were all safely outside of the enclosure, the lions were released and had a blast!
The last activity of Roars and Snores was with a big cat that can’t even roar. Everyone had the opportunity to get their picture taken with a cheetah.
It’s hard to believe that thia all took place in less than 24 hours- they packed a lot into this short vacation! If this sounds like something you would like to do, check out Wildlife Safari’s website regularly for announcements about upcoming Roars and Snores sleepovers. They also sometimes offer an event that includes dibner for both you and the lions, bur without the campout. Your group could also book a private event that includes a lion encounter. Even if none of these are available for the date you want to visit, I’m sure you’ll still have a great time at Wildlife Safari at the drive-thru or in an animal encounter.
PS- Discounted tickets are often available on Groupon, good for either drive-thru admission or an elephant car wash!
I made it all the way through June without going on a single overnight trip. You could say I was having road trip withdrawals. After getting my new car, I was really itching to put some pavement behind me. I looked at my next weekend, and my only commitment was a chiropractic appointment on Saturday morning. I couldn’t change it to an earlier time, and I didn’t want to cancel it, so I wasn’t sure if travel would be a possibility that day. But when I woke up Saturday morning, I decided that I’d just work some travel around that.
There was an interesting-sounding hostel in Eugene, Oregon that I had never stayed at before. On the morning of, there was only one bed left to book, which just so happened to be in the female dorm. I quickly got ready (not packing much at all), made a rough plan of stops I would make, and headed off to the chiropractor. The doctor typically asks if I have anything exciting planned for that day, so it was nice to go in and tell him something interesting for a change!
My first stop was at Seven Feathers. I’ve only stopped there once, and that was back when my sister was underage, so I never actually walked through the casino part of the resort. However, I didn’t gamble. It was just a quick stop to use the bathroom, get on the WiFi, and take a picture with the world’s largest cast iron eagle.
After a couple more hours of driving up the I-5, I checked into Eugene Whiteaker International Hostel. While on the medium-to-small side as far as hostels go, this became one of my top hostels in the character and comfort categories.
I didn’t stay long, however, because I only had the afternoon to explore Eugene. Thankfully, everything I wanted to see could be access from the Eugene Riverwalk, which was just a few blocks from the hostel. Before I got on the trail, I smelled the Owen Rose Garden.
After walking towards downtown for a bit, I came across a planet. Saturn, to be exact. This was a good sign, since my goal was to make it to the sun. Okay, maybe I should explain. The city of Eugene displays a lot of permanent public art. One of those is a scale model of the solar system. The sun, moon, and all the planets (including Pluto!) are all the correct size and distance from each other… if they shrunk to a billionth of what they actually are! While I would have loved to see Neptune and Pluto, they were miles away from the other planets distributed through a park and along the Riverwalk. After Saturn, I had to walk quite a bit further before I reached Jupiter. Then it would be a long time before I saw Mars.
But before I saw the small planets, I made a stop at University of Oregon. I didn’t end up in the central part of campus, but I enjoyed walking through an art department. Due to summer break, it seemed like a ghost town. If you want to visit Eugene for the culture, I would recommend going during the school year!
I should mention how beautiful the parks lining the river are. It’s neat that even a semi-large city like Eugene purposely sets aside prime locations for the public to enjoy. At one point, I was walking through a forested area! It was a long walk of many miles, but the beautiful urban nature and finding the planets kept me going. On my way back, I even walked further than I needed to so that I could see Uranus!
Back at the hostel, I ate, relaxed, and did something artsy for the first time in a long time. Most importantly, I rested up for an even bigger day following.
On Sunday morning, I got ready, enjoyed the free hostel pancakes, and looked up where I needed to go that day. It all started with over an hour of driving to the Oregon Coast. I headed up to Yachats to begin my day at Thor’s Well. I had seen pictures of this blowhole online over the past few years, and I wanted to be able to see it for myself. Most of the pictures online were taken at high tide, which just could not work with my itinerary that day. But it was still a fantastic sight when I saw the water shoot up from the ground. And I had the added advantage of being able to walk right up to it!
Thor’s Well was the only planned attraction of this trip, but there was more to see on the Central Oregon Coast. While I’ve been to much of the Oregon Coast, I’m most familiar with the Southern part since it’s the most accessible from my home. I think the last time I was on the Central Oregon Coast, I was in middle or elementary school!
It was surprising how many stops I ended up taking just between Yachats and the neighboring town of Florence. There was Heceta Head Lighthouse which I of course had to tour, which was right next to a beach that was perfect for eating lunch at. Then I decided that, while expensive (at $14 a head!), I should check out the Sea Lion Caves.
In the past, when I told a former coworker about my solo travels, she would say that the only solo trip she’d ever done was driving out to the Sea Lion Caves by herself. That was what sold me on going here, just following in her footsteps I suppose. I was surprised at how many other people traveled out here; some were even from other countries! After entering through the gift shop, I ended up on a trail outside facing the Pacific Ocean. To the left, there was a lookout point where you could look down and see dozens of sea lions enjoying the sun and sea. Then to the right, there was an elevator that went deep down into the cave.
The cave had a looping video, skeletons of sea lions, and informational panels about the different species. Of course, there was an opening to look into the part of the cave where the sea lions were, all piled on a rock. It was fairly distant, and at first I was a little disappointed in this place when you can see the San Francisco sea lions a lot closer, and for free. But then I found out that the staff member overseeing that area had a pair of binoculars that she loaned out to visitors, and she had plenty of stories to tell about the sea lions that I could now see up-close!
I stopped for some s’mores flavored ice cream at a Florence ice cream shoppe called BJ’s, and then went behind the Fred Meyer to enjoy the sand dunes. (I wish I brought a sandboard or toboggan!) I continued driving south. I got a tip when planning for my NorCal road trip to San Francisco last summer that, if you go on a one-way trip along the West Coast, make sure you go south. That way, your side of the road has better views of the ocean. Good advice!
I stopped at another lighthouse (though the tour was too expensive for this one) and an ocean overlook. I even went on a little nature walk through a patch of darlingtonia, which is a carnivorous pitcher plant. I tried stopping at an old favorite coffee shop in Coos Bay, but it was closed by the time I got there. Finally, I made it to Old Town Bandon.
I enjoyed many of the same places as I did the last time I stopped in Bandon, including the delicious Cranberry Sweets. But for some reason, I was craving Mexican food. Maybe it was because a favorite place to go when I worked in Bandon was El Jalepeno, a restaurant with big, unique, tasty burritos. Sadly, that closed down years ago. So I searched on my GPS to see if there were any Mexican restaurants still standing in Bandon. There was, and it just happened to be in Old Town! I walked there and enjoyed a feast. I think it was my first time eating solo at a sit-down Mexican restaurant, and it was a revelation to realize that I could double-dip my chips in the salsa!
With a full belly, I pondered where to go from here. Everything south of Bandon would just be a repeat of my trip to Brookings a couple months prior. It would be faster to head back to the I-5, but that would also be a repeat but with less scenery. I decided to take the long way home so that I could enjoy more of the coastal views. Most of it was drive-by enjoyment, such as through the Mount Humbug and Prehistoric Gardens area. But I did make a quick stop at Kissing Rock in Gold Beach as the sun was setting. I even stopped at Oregon’s highest bridge, which I’ve driven over several times but never actually stopped to look at. I took an even longer break in Brookings so I could explore Azalea Park, which was too rainy to enjoy the last time I was there. When I was a kid and camped near Brookings, the Azalea Park playground was like a castle. I played on it for a few seconds for old time’s sake, but was now more impressed with the garden and the capella.
After that, it was a dark, eerie-but-fun drive through the redwoods. I work the overnight shift between Sunday and Monday, and I made it there with ten minutes to spare!
Other than Yachats, I had already been to all the towns that I stopped at on this road trip. Yet it felt like an entirely new experience. Enjoying different attractions or seeing the same attractions in different ways (such as different times of day or even different ages!) made it a whole new experience.
Have you ever visited a destination more than once? What felt different on subsequent trips? Let me know in the comments!
Exactly one week after my car was hit, I was still overcoming fears that were brought on the night of the crash. Since I was turning left when it happened, I had to psych myself up every time I needed to turn left. (I have heard of people who make three rights to avoid ever turning left, but I knew right away that I didn’t want to live in fear or make big adjustments to my life from one crash.) I was already starting to overcome my fear of the intersection where it occurred, since I drove through it almost every day. Because the driver that hit us was from California, to be honest I was a little nervous about California drivers.
Thankfully, my car insurance provided a rental car for one month. It was a blue Hyundai Sonata. I took it one one road trip during the time I had it. Within the first five minutes of that trip, I decided that Sue would be the perfect name for this car. Sue Sonata was my Sue-bstitute for my Sue-baru. But that road trip involved a lot more than just naming a car.
I had been considering taking a road trip all that week, but wasn’t sure if I was up for it. I was still in a lot of pain, not to mention the mental obstacles that come with driving long distances so shortly after an emotional crash. So when I decided on Saturday morning that I should face my fears and have some fun along the way, I was scrambling for where to go and places to stay. Several ideas I had resulted in finding no nearby accommodations that were both affordable and available, but I eventually found an AirBnB in Redding, California.
Redding has been a stop on several of my trips, but never a destination. I’ve enjoyed several walks across the Sundial Bridge and around the surrounding Turtle Bay Exploration Park. In middle school I even had fun on a Girl Scout trip to the Redding Water Slides. But one popular thing to do in Redding, especially for Christians, is attend a worship service at Bethel Church. That would be at the top of my to-do list for this trip.
Redding is about three hours away from my home in Southern Oregon. Since I didn’t leave until after lunch on Saturday, I only had the late afternoon and early evening to spend in Redding. I started out by checking into my AirBnB. The hosts attend Bethel, and many of their other guests also come primarily to attend Bethel, so they gave advice on when to leave in the morning. I was surprised that people are waiting to get into the sanctuary over an hour before service starts! I also learned that the 8am service was the least crowded, so I set my alarm to get up for that.
Then, I headed off to explore Redding. The waterslides weren’t in my budget, but I still enjoyed the (very Northern) California May weather by going to the local YMCA, which has both an indoor and outdoor pool. At the time, I had a membership to my local Y, which allows for free access to just about any Y location in the world. I was a little disappointed that they didn’t have a sauna, though. The Ys near me have them, and since I hadn’t started chiropractic work yet, the heat was really helping my injured shoulder and other sore muscles. But I still got a decent workout in.
Next, I headed to 7 Eleven with a popcorn bucket. It was Bring Your Own Cup Day, after all! I try to take advantage of good deals like this, no matter where I am. It’s just one way to enjoy yourself while still saving money for travel.
I must confess: when traveling, I often replace a meal with ice cream. The Slurpee wasn’t filling enough for a meal, so I dined on Rita’s ice and custard. The last time I ate this was when I lives in Ohio three years ago, so it was definitely a treat.
Then, I attempted to spend the evening in Turtle Bay Exploration Park. Unfortunately, when I got there, it was really crowded. I realized that there was a rodeo going on next to the park, and attendees were parking miles away since the nearby lots were full. I had no interest in attending the rodeo, and I didn’t want to walk so far just to get to the park, so I left. I wasn’t that upset for a few reasons. I had already been before, I might be able to go after church the next day, and my AirBnB had a great view of the Sundial Bridge from the back patio. I spend some time looking over the cityscape while munching on my giant Slurpee.
I spent the quiet evening trying to write and learn about Bethel. Other than hearing the occasional Bethel Music song on Christian radio, I didn’t know too much about the church doctrine or leaders.
Up before my alarm went off, I got ready, packed up, and headed off to Bethel. My plan was to attend two services back-to-back, and visit the Alabaster Prayer House. I had no trouble finding parking or a seat for the 8am service, though the front half of seating was already reserved.
While the song selection and pastor’s message were the same in both services I attended, there were still differences. The worship in the second service was more experiential, with flag wavers and more complex lighting. That service also had a baby dedication that seemed more like a walk down the red carpet. Instead of just one or two babies, there were over twenty being paraded by their parents as their names were announced and pastors lined up to pray for them.
The first service seemed more like a church service I would typically attend, but because of its smaller attendance, it offered something that the other one didn’t: the opportunity to wait in line after service to be prayed over for physical healing. I had heard about Bethel’s physical healing ministry on Saturday mornings, but didn’t think there would be the opportunity on Sunday. I am not sure if it was a normal thing or because the theme of the morning sermon was healing, but since I still had all the pain of a recent collision, I decided to take them up on this offer! Unfortunately I didn’t receive immediate healing like some people do, but my chiropractor has been saying that I am recovering quickly, so maybe these two are connected.
Between services, I was hungry due to only having leftover Slurpee breakfast. So I headed to the church cafe, called HeBrews. I ate a muffin on the patio, then got into the line for second service. When I got into the sanctuary, I didn’t see any available seats. Lots of people were standing against the side walls, so I joined them. I later learned that these standing people could join live worship, but would then sit in another room while the service was streamed to them. I didn’t join them, however, because a woman came up and told me there was an empty seat next to her.
After the second service, I went to the greeters who welcomed first-time visitors. They gave me a calendar and a coupon to download free sermon, which I still haven’t taken advantage of. Then I walked over to thw Alabaster Prayer House. This was a cute little building offering communion, books, a fountain, and other resources that contributed to a mindful place to pray. Outside of that was a garden that I decided to walk through, especially after looking down at the driveway and seeing all the cars coming and going as slow as molasses!
When I did leave, I headed over to Turtle Bay. One thing I have wanted to do here for a couple years now was hike the trails. So after the mandatory sundial selfies, I started down a trail, but stopped at a bench overlooking the water. A couple with a thick accent asked to sit next to me. It turns out they were from Paris, but were visiting Redding for several days to attend a Bethel conference as well as church this morning. So we talked about church as well as my trip to Paris two years ago. Then I continued down the path.
I saw deer and a lot of beautiful spots along the water before I ended up next to the freeway. I then turned and walked a path that had the freeway on one side, and a marshy preserve on the other- quite the contrast! I walked some on the other side of the water, but the scattered path, hot sun, and hunger eventually forced me to turn around.
Back on the road, I sipped some soup from a mug as I listened to music and enjoyed the forested Shasta Lake area. Soup was not appeasing my hunger, though. When I saw a sign for The Pizza Factory, I recalled how in high school my youth group once went there after a houseboat trip. I guess I was too busy remembering the past, because I missed the exit for it. Fortunately, there are three Pizza Factory restaurants along the NorCal I5. I stopped at the Weed one, which turned out to be the same one that my youth group had gone to anyway. I enjoyed a delicious taco pizza.
The rest of the drive home was pretty mundane, although I did feel a little accomplished safely driving past the town where the other driver in the accident lives. In just one quick weekend trip, I drove long distances, drove among many California drivers, turned left in plenty of intersections, started the physical healing process, and even enjoyed most of it. I wasn’t sure if I would get my car back, but it was even better to have my life back!
What fears have YOU overcome while traveling? Tell me in the comments!
This winter, when I didn’t have the money, the warmth, or even the desire to travel much, I went on more virtual adventures. I read lots of books, and I caught up on some great TV shows. I finally finished what I thought was the greatest cartoon of all time, Phineas and Ferb. I was actually pretty sad when I finished the final episode. Those boys and their pet platypus knew how to make the best of each day and circumstance, and were able to have so many adventures! I was able to turn some of the show’s situations into real-life experiences, such as going to Mount Rushmore, dressing up as Perry the Platypus, and of course, climbing up the Eiffel Tower! Would I ever find such an inspiring cartoon again?
I did. And I didn’t even have to look outside of Disney. It was called Gravity Falls.
I first heard about Gravity Falls before it came out in 2011. All I knew was that it was about boy/girl twins and took place in Oregon. I was moving away from Oregon at the time, and combining the fact that I did not want to miss Oregon with the fact that I would not have access to cable, I did not watch Gravity Falls at the time. I actually forgot about it for awhile, but it had a way of finding me. Just a month before the series finale, I got hooked and binge watched every episode. I was looking forward to the finale just as much as the long-term Gravity Falls fans.
In February I watched the series finale, and then tried to move on with life.
Then came Easter.
Before heading to church on Easter Sunday, I was inspired to write a travel article. This one would be about places around Oregon that had a Gravity Falls-style feel. Of course one of those places would be the Oregon Vortex, a house of mystery that even the producers admitted they visited and took inspiration from for the show’s “Mystery Shack”. In fact, if you type “Gravity Falls, Oregon” into Google Maps, it will take you to the Oregon Vortex! Wanting to make sure that little fun fact was correct before I incorporated it into my article, I plugged it in and watched it zoom into my neighboring town of Gold Hill. But then, I noticed something interesting off to the side of the screen.
A marker labeled “Bill Cipher Statue” had been placed there. At first I thought it was really cool. Since Bill Cipher is the main antagonist of Gravity Falls, maybe I should head over there after church to see it for myself, take some pictures, and add that into one of the destinations in my article. But as I read the reviews, it seemed like they were all joke reviews and no one had actually been there. I did some further research.
At the end of the series finale, the post credits were slightly different, including a brief filmstrip of (spoiler alert!) Bill Cipher after he had turned to stone in the episode. I didn’t read too much into it, as the grainy film made me think it was just really good animation. But I didn’t realize with the brief clip that it was indeed a lifelike statue, and that there were ciphers in this episode that got the internet buzzing with the belief that this statue of Bill Cipher was somewhere out there, and it was up to us fans to find it!
Other than a clue about it being “beyond the rusty gates”, the only hint in the show to its location was that there was a fern nearby. Ferns don’t grow just anywhere, so that was actually a better hint than the gate!
I actually searched for the Bill Cipher statue in this location three separate times. Although this location was on BLM land right across the street from the Oregon Vortex, the problem was that there was private property blocking off a direct path. That meant I had to drive several miles up the road, and then swing back around until I reached some logging paths. (It was encouraging to go from a fern-free Gold Hill to a hillside covered with ferns, though!) I got out and started hiking these trails, but never made it to the GPS coordinates of the alleged Bill Cipher statue.
The first time I had come alone and unprepared, and it was going to get dark soon.
The second time I went with my mom, and while hiking she made me realize that we should have bear spray and maybe a larger hiking group.
The third time my dad joined us, and we made it a little farther than I did the first time, but we realized that if there was a trail going to the statue area, it would have to wind for several miles on steep mountains. The trail we thought might lead to it was very overgrown, and we had a hard time imagining Hollywood crew lugging a stone statue this entire way.
So I gave up for awhile, but whenever the opportunity presented itself, I kept my eye out for something unusual in the woods. Like I went on the Bigfoot Trap hike a couple weeks ago, and instead of looking for an ape-like creature, I was looking for a triangular one among the ferns.
Last week, a global scavenger hunt for Bill Cipher officially began. It’s already gone through Russia, Japan, and parts of the US, so it’s pretty fun to follow as a virtual adventure. Unfortunately, the next clue has come to almost a standstill as it’s been stuck in Los Angeles for four days now, but I have a feeling that it will pick back up soon. I also have a feeling that the hunt will pass through Gold Hill, either as a clue or (hopefully) the final stage that leads to the statue. And I’ll be shocked and impressed if it’s in the same location I thought it was in this entire time! I guess I’ll just have to wait until a clue leads to my area, and then I’m ready to jump on it!
In light of recent events, I’m going to postpone my original posting plans and spend today talking about Nice, France.
On this day exactly one year ago, I was spending my final day in the United States before embarking on a three-month journey which I’ve come to refer to as my Mediterranean Trek. My first destination actually was Paris, France, which made the attacks late last year feel more personal and devastating. After Paris, I spent a few weeks in three cities in Spain before returning to France, this time through the southern part and to Nice.
Nice is a beautiful city with exquisite art, architecture, and natural beauty. Like Paris, they also have a Notre Dame Cathedral near the center of the city, which I loved seeing lit up at night. I even attended an evening mass there. (Though since I don’t speak French, I have no idea what they were saying!)
Much of Nice’s art was related to other famous pieces around the world. I found decorated architecture that was made by Gustave Eiffel himself! I also found replicas of statues outside of France, such as Michelangelo’s David and The Statue of Liberty. Of course there was some completely unique art with unique history in Nice as well.
Old Town is a big tourist attraction to visit, but I went to an even older town and headed to the northern part of Nice, where I ended up walking along some ancient ruins!
But the best reason to visit Nice is for the beach lining the Promenade des Anglais. While the beach itself isn’t very comfortable for sunbathing (it’s made of chunks of rock instead of sand), the Mediterranean Sea is so blue and perfect for swimming in! And while it is a strenuous hike, going to the top of the hill to overlook the city is definitely worth it!
I missed Bastille Day in France by just a couple of days, but I did get to attend a French event that is known around the world. I wrote an article for TravelingMom with tips based on my experience witnessing the final stage of Le Tour de France. I sent it in for publication before news of the most recent attack broke out, but I do hope that Le Tour enthusiasts are kept safe and that it doesn’t deter anyone from watching the race in person. I think one of the best things we can do after an attack is show that we are not afraid, and getting involved in Le Tour de France is just one way to do it! Click here to read my tips for watching the final stage of Le Tour de France in person.
The US is a vast and varied country. There is a lot to see and do. A lot of people that live here love to camp and explore the great outdoors. There are a lot more national parks and reserves to see than you might think.
So if you are planning a hiking trip, where are the best places to visit? It can be difficult to know where to start, especially if you are coming from abroad. Locals have friends and family recommendations that they can go on. So if you are coming from abroad, I have got some advice for you. First of all, check out a page like https://www.trails.com/toptrails.aspx. It is a great place to start. It will narrow down your search of the areas you want to be in and the distances that you want to travel. Remember if you are coming from abroad, you need to have the necessary visas in place as you plan your trip. You will most likely need an ESTA visa for the time you are on vacation. You could look at https://www.official-esta.com/our-services for any questions that you might have. But anyway, here are a few of my ideas to help get you started on deciding where to go.
I think one of the most obvious hiking trails that are known worldwide is the Grand Canyon. If you have never been in your life, it needs to be on your bucket list! There is so much to explore, and it is a stunning area of the world. It is a mile deep which is pretty epic to hike in. You can also hike around the top of it, too.
Zion National Park, Utah
There are a few awesome national parks in Utah. One of the best has got to be Zion National Park in southern Utah. There is a river that runs through it which is great if you feel the need to cool off a little. The river leads to an area called Emerald Pools that is full of waterfalls. It is a beautiful area to hike.
Yosemite National Park, California
This national park is set in the Californian Sierra Nevada mountains. It is the park most known for its giant, and I mean giant, Sequoia trees. The ancient trees stand proud, and it is pretty epic that you can close to such historical lifeforms. It isn’t too far from Sacramento and San Francisco in California. So if you do want to experience some of the USA’s great shopping and burgers, you can while you are close by!
Great Smoky Mountains, Tennessee/North Carolina
This park straddles the border of Tennessee and North Carolina and is one of the greatest national parks on the east coast. The forests are lush, and it is full of amazing flowers all year long. There are of course streams and rivers that follow along the hiking trail. It is one of the prettiest national parks that you could visit.
Hope you enjoyed this collaborate post! While I have only seen a couple of the parks listed above, stay tuned as I return to some of my favorite national parks and visit new ones, too!