Winter

Winter Trips and Pics

In years past, I’ve commonly thought of this season as a time to take a long winter’s nap, certainly not an ideal time to travel. I could go to a local Christmas event or two, but save the real adventures for warmer weather. But so far over the past month, I’ve been surprisingly proven wrong! This could very well become my best winter yet. 

Here’s what I’ve done…

My family went snowshoeing at Crater Lake National Park on Thanksgiving morning to burn off the calories before we even consumed them!


I have gone to several camps with Wilderness Trails. The snowy mountains are fun to enjoy, and one camp, everyone got to cut their own Christmas tree!

This is in addition to the usual Christmas and winter festivities, on top of moving earlier this month! Although I only moved 10 miles away (which is actually closer to work, church, and other places I typically frequent), I am excited for the new adventures to be had in this neighborhood. And I will admit that I am also planning a late- winter trip to a warmer destination. 
Season’s greetings and merry Christmas!

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day trip, resources, road trip, saving money, travel tips, Winter

Day Trip on the I-5

Although I am from Oregon, I can’t stand the rain! That makes coming up with day trip ideas complicated. But yesterday, my sister Jen and I took a very fun day trip along the Southern Oregon I-5. Since the majority of what we did involved being either indoors or in the car, the rain didn’t bother me at all!

Stop One: Spider Cars, Wolf Creek

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They’re bugs that are also bugs! This wasn’t a stop as much as it was a drive-by photo op, since these art pieces are on private property and meant to be viewed from the road. But it sure was nice to take a break from the interstate for a couple miles and catch unique scenery!

By the way, I found out about these bugs from RoadsideAmerica, which I often use to find fun stops on the way to a bigger destination.

Stop Two: Seven Feathers, Canyonville

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Seven Feathers had five different restaurants! Only one was open for lunch on Sundays, so we enjoyed fried-pickle-topped sandwiches at Cow Creek Restaurant. In front of Seven Feathers is the largest bronze casting of an eagle in the world.

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Although Seven Feathers is a casino resort, we didn’t go there to gamble. When we entered, there was a blue line in the carpet separating the casino area from the restaurant entrance, which minors are not allowed to cross. Because Jen recently turned twenty, I had to tease her by showing off how I could go across the blue line!

Stop Three: Wildlife Safari, Winston

This was the goal of our trip! I had given Jen a Groupon for Wildlife Safari as a Christmas gift (they’re still available on Groupon if you want to snag one!), and she finally had the opportunity to use it! Wildlife Safari in Winston, Oregon, is a drive-thru animal park. I’ve only been to one other animal safari (in Ohio), but Wildlife Safari is definitely unique in its own right. First, it is the only drive-thru safari in Oregon. It also has more unique animals, as opposed to mostly farm animals like at many locations. Best of all, it’s certified by animal welfare groups, so I can go here knowing that my experience won’t be detrimental to the animals.

The drive takes you through three regions: Africa, The Americas, and Asia. I went here a few times as a kid, and I don’t remember being allowed to roll down car windows back then. This time, we were told at the entrance that windows down and seatbelts off were totally okay, as long as we didn’t get out of the car! This meant that some animals (especially the large bird species, like ostriches, emus, and rheas) would come up and poke their heads in to check out my car’s interior. Since there were wild animals, we got to see some of them fighting, and we may have cheered two bison on in their head-butting! No worries, though. Dangerous animals such as bears and big cats were separated from cars with fencing.

After our drive through, we went into the Safari Village. Up to this point, this had been a great rainy day trip (which was good since it was pouring buckets all day!). Safari Village is mostly outdoors, so we got a bit cold and wet, but we made the best of it. There were several animals here that were not part of the safari drive, which were fun to see. For kids (and kids at heart!) there’s a children’s petting zoo which has the standard goats and miniature horses, but it also has a black-tailed deer with a unique coloring: it’s white with brown patches! My favorite area was the Australia section. That wasn’t a continent included on the drive-thru, so it was cool to see the wallaroos, black swans, and kookaburras there. (Speaking of Australia, the late Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin has visited Wildlife Safari and documented it on his show! His wife, Terri Irwin, is from this area.) However, I think the highlight of Safari Village was meeting Pancake the cheetah up-close! While warming up in the gift shop, Pancake and the trainer walked in, followed by Pancake’s companion dog. They were raised together since they were a cub and puppy, and as such treat each other like siblings. (Jen and I also saw this phenomenon at the Colombus Zoo a couple years ago.)

At Wildlife Safari, every ticket is good for two drives through the safari. I think this is a great idea because we got to see and interact with some animals that were hiding during our first drive. Unfortunately, the one animal I was hoping to see that we didn’t see either time was the giraffe. We asked about it, and apparently they really don’t like the rain. I don’t blame them! But I think going on a rainy day ended up being a good idea, because the crowds were minimal and most of the other animals have no problem getting rained on.

Stop Four: Noah’s Ark, Winston

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Wildlife Safari was definitely the highlight, but we had one more place to stop by in Winston. Noah’s Ark is located just across the street. It’s hard to miss since the building is shaped like a big boat and surrounded by wooden animals! They offer a restaurant and tour through Biblical history, which I may take advantage of in the future. But with an all-day excursion, we mostly just wanted to see what it looked like. It had a nice view outside and a decorated bookshop inside. After that, we headed home in the rain!

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Bucket List, day trip, destinations, road trip

Street Fairs and Roadside Attractions

If you haven’t read about the previous days of my road trip through Northern California and to the desert, you may want to catch up on those first. After those two legs of the trip, the next several days were spent at my grandmother’s house in Southern California, but we took little day trips from that location.

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On the day we got back from the desert, we took a walk around downtown Upland. This is the town where my mom grew up, but little did we know that the city was having a celebration for her homecoming! Okay, it wasn’t really for her, but Upland was having their annual Lemon Festival the weekend we were there. The next day, I went there for a little longer to enjoy the sights and street food (including, of course, lots and lots of fresh lemonade!).

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Chick-Fil-A exists within an hour of places I’ve previously lived, such as Nebraska and Ohio, but there is not Chick-Fil-A in Oregon. When we found out that there was one right in my grandmother’s town, I just had to take my mom out for her first-ever spicy chicken sandwich!

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On Sunday, we hopped in the car and went to City of Industry. This little side-trip took a lot of convincing, but my mom finally agreed to it. Our first stop was this guard rail:

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What, you don’t know what this guard rail is? What if you pictured part of it turning into a big sign with a digital clock and the writing “Twin Pines Mall”, or perhaps “Lone Pine Mall”?

Okay, if you haven’t seen Back to the Future (or didn’t pay attention while watching it), you won’t know what this is, so I’ll tell you: this is the location where they shot the mall scenes in the first movie of the Back to the Future trilogy. Yes, this is the parking lot where time travel took place!

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In the above photo, you can see some fence-type thing (not sure what that’s called?) in the background. It’s location didn’t make much sense, unless it was put there to prevent movie fans from driving 88 miles per hour!

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Since Back to the Future Part 2 involves a trip to 2015, it was my New Year’s Resolution to see a location from the movie this year. Hey, it was even on my Travel Bucket List!

While researching the Back to the Future mall parking lot on Roadside America, I noticed another interesting location just a mile away. So we drove up to it and found this:

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Wait, McDonald’s isn’t an attraction! Ah, but this one is.

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This particular McDonald’s has never turned on their range. They refuse to serve the public. In fact, it’s surrounded by a security fence! That’s because this is not McDonald’s restaurant at all. Instead it is a McDonald’s set, the place they use to film all the McDonald’s commercials! Below is a sign on wheels, so they can position it to wherever the best lighting and scenery is.

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Next to the fake McDonald’s is a big warehouse with the McDonald’s logo. It’s funny since I’ve never really thought about commercials like this having props or costumes, but I guess they need this large of a warehouse to store that kind of thing!

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Of course, all the gates were closed and I’m sure there was no lack of security cameras and burglar alarms, but I have read that on days when they film, they sometimes have customers pull up to the drive-thru and begin honking their horn due to lack of service! I’m not sure if that’s legitimate though. This McDonald’s is pretty out-of-the-way in and industrial area and even has signs stating it’s not real!

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Our final roadside stop before leaving grandma’s house to continue our road trip was right on one of America’s most famous roads. When visiting my grandmother, you can’t avoid driving on Route 66. (Even though I didn’t realize it was actually Route 66 until I was about eighteen!) So while I haven’t really traveled on Route 66, I am very familiar with a several-mile stretch of it. And with that familiarity, I am going to assume that the best place to eat in all of Route 66 is right here:

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Locally-famous Vince’s has delicious spaghetti, as well as garlic bread, cheese bread, soup, and salad. It was a delicious way to cap off all the things we saw in the street and alongside the road!

While these days were jam-packed with roadside attractions, I’ve been to other interesting places that I love as well. What roadside attractions have you visited? Are there any that are on your bucket list?

Accommodations, destinations, road trip

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly: The Desert

Do dinosaurs still roam the Earth? Is there beauty in the desert? And what happened in the desert that would cause me to write my first angry review? You’ll find all that out in today’s post, but first, you may want to read what happened first on this road trip. 

After our night in Sacramento, my mom and I ate breakfast at the hostel and were back on the road by 7:45. There really isn’t much of anything on the I-5 between Sacramento and the Greater LA region. Besides rest stops, our only break was at a Ghiradelli outlet in Lathrop, where I enjoyed a free sample as well as an expensive-but-worth-it chocolate chip cookie. We arrived at my grandmother’s house in the afternoon and spent the night there. The next day, all three generations of us set off on a unique part of our journey.

Twentynine Palms Desert in California

I grew up hearing stories about my mom’s childhood memories of “the desert”. Despite hearing about these experiences, I never went to the desert myself, and never even thought to ask where exactly it was! But my mom thought it would be a great idea to take my grandma out to Twentynine Palms where they used to vacation in order to relive old memories, and introduce me to what they’ve been talking about my entire life!

Desert View from Holiday Inn Express in Twentynine Palms

Before we got to our hotel in Twentynine Palms, we made a couple detours along the way. The first one was at the store for Hadley Fruit Orchards in Cabazon. It’s a pretty similar concept to Harry & David in that it’s a mail order gourmet company selling mostly local foods. But there was one thing that really made Hadley stand out, and I’m not even talking about the wide selection of free samples. They are known for their specialty date shakes. As I was ordering my shake, I realized that I didn’t even know where dates came from. (I then learned they came from palm trees. Who knew?)

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The next stop was also in Cabazon, just down the street. My mom excitedly asked me to take a picture of a giant sign that said “EAT”. So I did. She had told me about dinosaurs and was looking forward to seeing them again.

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I didn’t realize this until after the trip, but the t-rex looked pretty familiar to me. It has become pretty famous on Pinterest as an iconic roadside attraction. In fact, he’s pretty famous since he was in other media, too.

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But the first dinosaur here was the even larger apatosaurus. My mom remembered that for years it did not have its “skin” on and was just a metal skeleton! There was a picnic table in the shade under the apatosaurus’ belly that would have been nice for a picnic, and apparently there was a museum entrance in his tail that probably would have been interesting, but it was a full day of plans with places to go and things to see, so we said good-bye to the Cabazon Dinosaurs and journeyed on.

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There was a long stretch of road that was very windy, so at least they were making full use of it by setting up thousands of windmills. Is it just me that enjoys driving by a bunch of windmills?

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After driving through a few small desert towns and seeing a Joshua tree for the first time, we checked in at the hotel and then set out to find lunch. My mom chose a burger and ice cream shop that she was sometimes treated to as a kid.117

Oh, but the stories of her childhood did not end there! As we drove around town, she pointed out that the military base looked a whole lot bigger than it used to, and showed me the pumpkin carriage that used to be her favorite playground toy, and all kinds of little things like that!

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But the biggest walk down memory lane happened on Goodie Lane. The people in that area always referred to it as Goodie Lane long before it officially got a street name, because two brothers with the last name of Goodie each had houses across the street from each other. (My mom’s family referred to them as Goodie One and Goodie Two!) But this is also the street where my great-grandparents had their desert house, where my mom, grandma, grandpa, and three uncles would stay on their desert trips.I took pictures of that house, as well as both of the Goodie houses, but since we have no idea who owns them now, wouldn’t it be strange to post pictures of their houses online? It was weird enough that we we got out of the car to take pictures on this underpopulated dirt road!

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After plenty of sightseeing, we went back to spend the night at the Holiday Inn Express of Twentynine Palms. Now, I know I’ve said on here before that I hate hotels, but this particular Holiday Inn Express was not a normal hotel. First of all, it had a wonderful, friendly staff. At check in, they told us that they would be popping popcorn in a few hours if we were interested in any! When I turned on my room’s television, none of the channels worked, so they sent up not one, but two staff to get it fixed! While they were working on it (which in this situation turned out to be a not-so-easy task), they kept a smile on their face as they recommended restaurants and places to go. But besides the staff, the hotel had little “extras” to make it especially memorable. In the evening, they had a guest reception where they provided so many snacks, we didn’t even have to go out for dinner! And at the continental breakfast, there was this cool contraption that I have dubbed “the pancake printer”!

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Our experience with the Holiday Inn Express staff and resources was wonderful, but unfortunately, the next place we visited did not have such great values. Yes, I am about to complain. I don’t like to do it, but I believe in this case that it is necessary, and even I am surprised that I have to complain about a National Park.

I haven’t mentioned this, but my grandmother has been handicapped for as long as I can remember, and since I last saw her four years ago, she has switched from crutches to a wheelchair. When my mom was planning the desert leg of this trip, she made sure that everything would be accessible for her. She got grandma a handicap-accessible hotel room, and the Holiday Inn Express not only did a great job in furnishing that room, but making sure all three of us were doing well. When researching Joshua Tree National Park, she found out that the Oasis Visitor Center had a fully-paved, handicap-accessible nature trail. We were excited to go. But when we got there, we found this:

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Now, construction can be annoying, but it’s understandable that everything needs improvement at some point or another. But it is NOT okay to blockade the one and only wheelchair ramp leading from the parking lot to the sidewalk! And that wasn’t even the worst of it. Despite the Joshua Tree National Park’s website touting that the path was accessible (and it didn’t note any changes relevant to that in their construction announcement), the temporary path entrance was made of sand. FYI, wheelchairs cannot be pushed through sand without getting very, very stuck! But the part that really got to me was how rudely we were treated by the park staff regarding this (especially since we were so polite in light of the situation at hand)! Joshua Tree National Park, your staff needs an improvement just as much as your Visitor Center trail does!

I sent the park a message via Facebook several days ago including even more details about our poor experience, and so far I have not received any sort of response. If you are interested in finding out if and when they respond to this, you can check out the message by clicking here. (If it leads to a broken link, then it means they must have deleted my comment instead of using decent PR to respond!)

My grandma insisted that she stay behind while the two of us took the trail, and while we were both still incredibly frustrated at the experience so far, we decided to go ahead and take a look at some of the scenery anyway.

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It had changed a lot since my mom was little, and is now just several yards off a road and contained lots of dead plants. But we did come across a lot of cottontails, which were fun to find.

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And being the desert, of course there was cacti. In the following picture, I asked my mom to pretend that she had just sat on the cactus!

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We then made our way out of the desert and back to grandma’s house, to rest up for more adventures that lay ahead!

I hope you enjoyed hearing my perspective on the good, the bad, and the ugly of the desert! But going to the desert was not the end of our road trip. I have a couple more posts planned for the next few stops. If you’d like to get a preview of what’s to come, I posted some pictures on my Instagram account!

Accommodations, Bucket List, destinations, Foodie, photography, road trip, travel tips

Back on the Blog!

Has it really been a month and a half since my last time sharing with you? Well, I’m back and with some good news:

It’s May!

I will confess, winter is by far my least favorite season. I am always up for travel, but it just doesn’t seem as fun if I can’t play in the sun. So I tend to save my trips until the weather gets warmer, usually in April. But May is my official kick-off for travel season. My birthday is on May 10th, so I typically like to celebrate that by doing some sort of crazy adventure. And then the adventures just continue from there.

The biggest reason I didn’t blog during April was because I was trying to jam-pack a whole lot of travel into just a few weeks. While that was tiresome, it does come with a reward as you will soon get to hear about all of the following:

What’s the view from the other Table Rock?

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What to do on the Oregon Coast when it’s too cold to get into the water. (And it’s almost always too cold!)

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Can you wear shorts in the snow while at Crater Lake National Park?

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Weird wonders of Union Creek.

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How to turn a giant sundial into workout equipment.

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How to under-dress to go to the California State Capitol. (When you typically overdress every other day!)

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How to introduce your mother to the wonderful world of staying in hostels.

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Where to find these prehistoric pals.

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The good, the bad, and the ugly of the desert.

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Why what appears to be an ordinary mall parking lot was probably the best, most outatime attraction!139

Why what appears to be a typical McDonald’s doesn’t allow people to buy burgers… and is surrounded by a security fence!

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Where the best place to stop is in the limited miles I’ve traveled on Route 66.

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What these rocks are and where to find them.

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What to do (besides gamble) in The Biggest Little City in the World!

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Stay tuned as you’ll hear all the details!

What are you most interested in reading about? 

#ThrowbackThursday, destinations

#ThrowbackThursday: Trading Winter for Warm Weather

I’m not a huge fan of this season. If it wasn’t for Christmas, I don’t think I would be able to survive between the months of November and March. In Oregon, it rains too much to do anything fun outside. In other places I’ve lived, it’s ice spaced out by muddy thaws. Although I’ve had some fun adventures in the winter months, I always prefer warmer weather for my travels. Lately I’ve been dreaming of warm places, like Hawaii, Mexico, and Southern California. Then I recalled the last time I was in Southern California, back in June 2011…

Just sit right back and I’ll tell my tale, my tale of a fateful trip…

Okay, we did take a boat tour, and although it wasn’t three hours, we did see one of the locations where Gilligan’s Island was filmed!

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Most of that trip consisted of going around the harbor by Newport Beach and looking at the super-expensive homes of the rich and famous. We only saw one location that was inhabited by the non-uber-wealthy, and it was a buoy full of sea lions:Newport Beach 11 011 Newport Beach 11 013

But most places looked like the picture below. We didn’t stay in a place nearly as fancy, but we were fortunate to spend nearly two weeks in a beautiful home in Newport Beach that my aunt and uncle live in. They were in Sweden for my cousin’s wedding, so we got to house-sit for them!

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I had realized that it had been a long time since we had gone to Disneyland. The last time we went as a family, California Adventure hadn’t even been built yet! I thought it would be neat to go and see everything we had missed over the years, so I secretly began making plans to pay for my entire family to go to Disneyland. When I looked up the admission prices, I realized that I couldn’t even afford to take just me and my sister! I began looking at other options. Then I remembered Knott’s Berry Farm, which I barely recalled since I only went there as a toddler. My mom ended up not going, but I got to take my dad and sister into this amusement park all for the cost it would have been for just one of us to go to Disneyland!

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Of course, because we were staying at Newport Beach, we spent a lot of time at the beach. We rented a surfboard one day, and after my sister got a little bit of practice with it, I went out for my very first surf session. But no sooner did I get out in the ocean did a lifeguard call everyone out of the water due to too harsh of waves!

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But there were plenty of boogie boards at the house we were staying at, so I went boogie boarding just about every day.Newport Beach 11 092

We did quite a few other things, too. One day we visited my grandparents, and another day I participated in the International Surf Day’s beach cleanup. We did a lot of shopping and fairly healthy eating, and we did some sand sculpting…

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And another thing we did pretty much every day was ride beach cruisers. Newport Beach has a great bike trail that goes along the shoreline. Sometimes we would just ride to the nearest beach, and other times we would go further to different shops. Some days it was hard to ride because we were going quite a few miles in the direction opposite of the wind, so we definitely kept in shape!

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Because we kept in such great shape, treats at the Balboa Pier were not only guilt-free, but they were mandatory! Newport Beach 11 149

holiday, saving money, travel tips, Winter

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!

destinations, travel tips

Happy Half Birthday to Me!

Today I am exactly 282 months old, or 23.5 years. No, I’m not one of those self-centered people who try to make up as many occasions as possibly to celebrate my existence, but I’ve always used this day as a time of reflection. I’ve only had 6 months of experience being 23 years old, yet in just 6 months I will have a new age to experience! So let’s take a look at what has happened since my birthday, and then plan what to do with the rest of the year!

Going on a bike ride around Columbus, Ohio happened to bring me to the World's Largest Gavel!
Going on a bike ride around Columbus, Ohio happened to bring me to the World’s Largest Gavel!

My 23rd year started on May 10th, 2014. I wanted to celebrate my birthday by taking a trip, because my favorite birthdays have been while I was traveling. I celebrated my 8th, 13th, 18th, and 22nd birthday in Disney World. No, my parents didn’t take me to Disney World just to celebrate my annual milestone; my birthday just happens to be the best time of year to go! But there was no way I would be able to get to Disney World this year, so I looked more locally. At the time, I lived about an hour away from Columbus, but I had never actually spend much time there. So I decided to book a weekend at The Wayfaring Buckeye (reviewing this hostel helped me rediscover my travel writing passion), throw my bicycle in the back of my Explorer, and head toward the city. I may have spent my birthday alone, but it didn’t even matter because I got to go to a topiary garden, a humongous bookshop, a record-breaking gavel, a fun science museum, two street fairs, and Buffalo Wild Wings, accessing all this on just two wheels! I even went to the Capitol Building and art museum the next day, and of course I set aside some time to call my family and just kick back.

At the science museum, I got to ride a self-balancing unicycle that was two stories high!
At the science museum, I got to ride a self-balancing unicycle that was two stories high!

I had been working at a retreat center as an outdoor school instructor. Sadly, the school year was just about ending, which meant the job was transitioning. I had the opportunity to help build a new website, and unfortunately I was also given the task of being a lifeguard. Since my summer work was looking somewhat bleak, I started making plans for my days off to “escape” in the world of travel, which also included filling up the remaining weekends in May with even more travel!

Harding Memorial Tomb
Me at the Harding Memorial.

The next weekend I had to go to Marion, Ohio, which I had never been to before. I looked up things I could do while in that town, and was surprised to discover that President Warren G. Harding had lived there, and now he and his wife were buried there! I decided my first stop in Marion would be to visit the cemetery he was buried in. The Harding Memorial looked like something that should only be found in a place like Washington, D.C. But since it was in Central Ohio, it had the bonus of not being crowded with tourists! After finding a geocache near the cemetery, I eventually made it to the event that brought me to Marion in the first place. Secret Keeper Girl had invited me to cover their event so I could feature it in Girlz 4 Christ Magazine. Since it was a mother-daughter event for tween girls, it was a little awkward for me to go by myself. I’m neither a tween nor a mother! But it actually was a great program with some fun games, a message that everyone could take to heart, and a pre-show concert from Copperlily.

Copperlily performing on the Secret Keeper Girl tour.
Copperlily performing on the Secret Keeper Girl tour.

The next week was Memorial Day weekend, and coincidentally, that was the only weekend where I didn’t have any plans. But my work was having a camp out that staff could attend for free, so I turned the back of my Explorer into a bed (while somehow also fitting my bicycle back there) and enjoyed a few nights away from home.

My typical camp set-up included my car (with all my clothes and bedding in the back), my bicycle, and hopefully a provided table to read and eat at!
My typical camp set-up included my car (with all my clothes and bedding in the back), my bicycle, and hopefully a provided table to read and eat at!

Because I had so much fun camping in my car that weekend, the next weekend involved car camping as well! I was invited to a review stay at Turkey Hollow Campground near Millersburg, Ohio AKA Amish Country. I spent two nights there picnicking, sleeping where I could see the stars, walking some paths, and using the camp paddle boat on the pond. During the day, I experienced as much of the Amish life I could in Holmes County by feeding the exotic animals at The Farm at Walnut Creek, touring the schoolhouse, barn, and cyclorama at the Behalt museum, and of course enjoying the authentic shops and foods!

Zebras were one of the several animals I got to pet and feed at The Farm at Walnut Creek. Another highlight was when a giraffe tried to eat my hair!
Zebras were one of the several animals I got to pet and feed at The Farm at Walnut Creek. Another highlight was when a giraffe tried to eat my hair!

My weekend trip to Holmes County ended on June 1st, and sadly that was the first and last trip of June. I remember spending that month working, going to church, and reading. But that also gave me more time to plan a trip to Niagara Falls, which I had wanted to do for a long time! Since Niagara Falls isn’t too far away from Ohio, it would be cheap trip to get there, and I decided to make it even cheaper by taking the Greyhound bus for the first time. Since I had never taken the bus before, I wasn’t sure if the bus station had a parking lot. I decided to drive up to Mansfield to see for myself in early July. And of course, I decided to make a trip out of it!

Doing time in one of the nearly 1000 cells.
Doing time in one of the nearly 1000 cells.

After discovering that there was no parking at all and I would have to arrange for someone to drop me off, I headed over to the Mansfield Reformatory. The outside looks like a castle, and the inside looks like an abandoned prison, which is what it actually is. It has also been a set for a couple of movies and is supposedly a haunted locale. I also spent this day trip visiting a natural park and a natural food store.

Cave of the Winds Trip on the US side of Niagara Falls
Cave of the Winds Trip on the US side of Niagara Falls

The next weekend I headed off to Niagara Falls! I thought this would be my one big trip of the year (fortunately that was proven wrong!) and I enjoyed a weekend of hiking, eating, sightseeing, and visiting Canada for the first time! This trip also really helped me make a name as a travel writer. Starting the eve of my 23rd birthday, I had been comped a couple nights at accommodations for being a writer and reviewer. But this entire 9-day trip only required me to pay for one night of lodging, plus I got a few other perks! But of course, the best part was finally seeing the Niagara Falls in person.

Enjoying the view from the Canada side of Niagara Falls
Enjoying the view from the Canada side of Niagara Falls

A few weeks after returning to my normal life, I got the opportunity to switch my role from tourist to tour guide! My sister had just come back from living in Mexico, and she wanted to explore Ohio before settling back in Oregon. I showed her a few of my favorite places, like Amish Country, President Harding’s tomb, and President Hayes’ birthplace, and she even encouraged me to try out a few new things, like the Columbus Zoo. The few days she spent in Ohio were memorable, not only because they were jam-packed with fun, but also because I decided that I also needed to move back to Oregon after being gone for three years. After all, the main reason I liked working in Ohio was just because of all the trips I could take on my days off!

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Walking through a cute little park next to one of the several cheese factories in Holmes County.

After spending a couple weeks trying to pack what I could and sell what I couldn’t, I finally left Ohio. It was actually miraculous to see everything that occurred in those few short weeks, such as the way my car was sold, the connection to donate my beautiful bed, and the numerous gift exchanges that occurred. I then embarked on my second-ever Greyhound trip, this time for eight days. Although I tried to line up travel writing jobs along the way, it was a holiday weekend and I had a pretty tight schedule, so I couldn’t get anything comped. Yet still, I only ended up paying for one night of lodging (thanks to relatives, former workplaces, overnight bus trips, and one night in a bus station followed by convincing the hostel to let me check in early for free). Besides driving and sightseeing through ten states, I made overnight stops in Chicago, Omaha/Fremont, and Denver. So much happened on this part-moving-expedition, part-road-trip, that you’ll just have to read all five blogs I wrote about it (here, here, here, here, and here) to see what I did!

I don't play favorites when it comes to travel, but a definite highlight was stepping out on the Willis Tower Skydeck's transparent ledge on the 103rd floor!
I don’t play favorites when it comes to travel, but a definite highlight was stepping out on the Willis Tower Skydeck’s transparent ledge on the 103rd floor!

I have spent all my time since then within Oregon boundaries. I got a few nanny and babysitting jobs right off the bat, but while I continued to search for a more regular job, I took a few Oregonian excursions. This included going to the Bigfoot Trap, spending the night in Ashland, and touring the Oregon Vortex, among a few other day trips.

Due to the height change in the Oregon Vortex, my mom and I could finally see eye to eye!
Due to the height change in the Oregon Vortex, my mom and I could finally see eye to eye!

As I mentioned, in addition to my writing work, I started to in-home childcare since moving to Oregon, which now includes a regular part-time nanny gig. A few weeks ago, I was also hired at Harry and David World headquarters to help with the Christmas rush. Not too long after that, I was also hired as a housemother at the Magdalene Home, which is an organization that provides housing and resources to teen mothers and their children. Over the past week, I have been training for this position, and I’m really looking forward to it! My training ended today, just in time for my new training at Harry and David to start tomorrow! I’m actually surprised that working four different jobs is going this smoothly. In fact, the only downside is this means I have early starts every day for a couple of weeks, which will then probably switch to a crazy combination of late nights and early mornings.

So there you have it: just about everything I’ve done over the past six months! So what do the next six months have in store? Obviously there’s work, with the goal to save up enough money so I can enjoy a backpacking trip to Europe, and possibly other destinations! I will also be going forth as one of the few remaining editors of Christian girl magazines, since most of our competition has gone out of business. In response to this, there are plans to expand and improve Girlz 4 Christ, and I am planning to apply for it to become an official non-profit organization! So far I’m not aware of any trips coming up in the next six months, but I’m sure they will happen in early 2015, and I’m ready to take advantage of any opportunities made available to me! Other than that, I don’t really know what will happen for the rest of my 23rd year, but I’m excited to find out. I’ll give you an update on this six months from now- hopefully while celebrating a 24th birthday excursion!

culture, destinations

Eating Kangaroo

I believe in trying (almost!) everything twice. I had learned that kangaroo was butchered for meat in Australia, so I figured I would have to try kangaroo twice…if I made it to Australia. But this morning, I learned that not only can you find kangaroo meat in the United States, but a Jasper’s Cafe near my hometown serves it as one of their specialty burgers! So I figured I had to try it out. One try down, one more to go! Hopefully the second time I try it, it will be fresh and Down Under. Here’s the video of my first bite.

You may have noticed it was, well, messy. In addition to traditional fixings, this burger also included an egg, beets, bbq sauce, and bacon (which you saw me remove- I know, I’ve been told that hating bacon is practically unamerican!). So I probably didn’t get the full taste of the kangaroo with all the other flavors. However, the server did warn me that the burger might make me “jumpy!”

The restaurant staff actually was pretty funny. When the waiter was taking our order, he asked for my name. At first I was just going to say Jes, but halfway through speaking I decided to give my full first name. So it came out like “Jess-i-ca?” My sister made fun of me, and the waiter joined in on the laughs. Here’s what he put on our bill:

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geography, travel tips

The Map on the Kitchen Table

Although I was born in Oregon, I don’t consider myself an official Oregonian until age three. My family moved to California when I was just a few months old, but they later decided that Southern Oregon was truly home and moved back a couple years later. After renting for a short time, we moved into a lovely suburban home that not only had a dining room for our dining room table, but there was a space inside the kitchen for a table as well. I remember going to furniture stores with my parents, until they finally brought a bench seat corner table set into our home. But with my preschooler tendencies, plus the anticipation of another child, my mom was well aware that this table was just one accident away from spilled juice or coloring off the paper. To protect the wood, she decided to cover the table in plastic, but knowing that would look tacky, she made a creative decision that would not only protect the table, but would provide a lifetime of curiosity and learning.

map 001

My mom found a U.S. map about the same size as the table, and laid that out before wrapping the table with a thick plastic sheet. Even though my sister (who wasn’t even born when we got this table) and I are adults now, we know that this protective plastic coating is never coming off- it gives the table its character! Sure, we had to replace the aging map once, and my family has moved, but this kitchen table was sure to find its way in my parents’ current home. Whenever a few of us are gathered around this, it always turns into either a geography lesson or a story about someone’s American Adventure.

map 003

Guests always loved looking at our table. Of course, the first place everyone has to locate is where they call home- which, for many of our guests, has been good old Southern Oregon. People love pointing out their birth town, places they have lived, interesting places they’ve visited, and where their family is from.

map 004

I’ve always appreciated the detail of such a large map as it makes it easy to figure out where exactly my friends and relatives live. Many of my relatives live in Southern California, and I’ve been able to locate every single city they live in! When planning family visits, we often used our finger to trace our route down the I-5. When my parents, sister, and I travel separate from each other, we often gather around this table afterwards and trace out everywhere we went. It’s not quite like joining them on the trip, but it gives the rest of us a more realistic perspective of what the trip was actually like! While living in the Midwest, I would come back for Christmas break and enjoy pointing out the trips I took, especially my long solo road trip between Nebraska and Ohio.

map 005

Nowadays, one of my favorite routes I like to trace on this map is the bus trip I took across the country. I remember while on that trip, probably somewhere in Wyoming, another bus passenger stated that she wished she and her family knew American geography better. I immediately thought of this and told her all about how my family sealed a map on the kitchen table when I was growing up. She was interested in the idea, as many of our guests have been, and I recalled all the fun memories that took place seated at this table. Who would have guessed that, of all things, I would be looking forward to once again seeing the map on the kitchen table?